12/09/2013

#29 The Good, They Die Young (1999)

All Rights Reserved © 1999 Thomas W. Day

WingspanBank.com died this year.  The BankOne PR hacks say Wingspan was "absorbed" by its parent company but to those of us who were Wingspan customers "absorbed" means "digested."  Too bad, especially for Wingspan's customers.  The difference between Wingspan and Bank One is similar to a comparison between Mother Theresa and Osoma bin Laden.  Both have causes they believe in, but their motives are justified by very different philosophies. 

According to revised business history, Wingspan was a BankOne experiment in Internet commerce.  It's possible that is true, but it's more likely that Wingspan was the brainchild of something of someone a bit more renegade in the customer-hostile BankOne organization.  Wingspan's philosophy was an attempt to reflect the lower cost of electronic banking to its customers.  BankOne's philosophy is something much closer to the gang-raping that we're all more familiar with from our banks. 

Not only did Wingspan do odd things like pay higher interest rates on savings and checking accounts, but Wingspan provided services in exchange for being allowed to hold its customers' money.  Wingspan rebated up to $5 a month in ATM charges.  Wingspan provided features like BillPay, electronic cash transfers, fee-free accounting software data downloads, and 24/7 customer service.  Bank One, of course, charges for those services, on the rare occasion that it's capable of providing them at all.

Banks have been whining that U.S. customers haven't taken well to electronic banking.  Even ATM use is amazingly low, less than 10% of bank customers use ATMs.  Almost no bank customers use Internet bank features.  Of course, most banks look at these features as a way to generate more income and charge for their use.  Since a typical Internet transaction costs the bank a couple of cents, an ATM transaction costs less than a dime, and a teller transaction costs nearly a buck, you'd think it would be obvious to the folks who mismanage banks that electronic transactions should be encouraged.  Unfortunately, banks employ way too many MBAs, so simple logic escapes them.  Their complex logic tells them that any activity that doesn't produce gross income is inefficient, even if they lose net income on the transaction.

Even more humorous, to an MBA, is any activity that doesn't result in low-tech empire-building.  Efficient management exposes the fact that there is very little need for management.  Tellers, supervisors, managers, and HR departments are empires.  ATMs and accessible websites are not. 

According to bank analysts, Wingspan was not a money-maker for BankOne.  Its two closest emulators, NetBank.com and everbank.com are profitable, but Wingspan was not.  Of course, neither of those competitors had to bear the kind of executive and corporate overhead that BankOne imposed on Wingspan, but we all know executives and their entourages are rarely punished for being redundant or an unnecessary expense. 

You have to admire BankOne's "marketing" skill, or gall, though.  In that ever optimistic, "nobody's dumber than Americans," spirit, they are happily advertising that losing all of the features that attracted customers to Wingspan is an "improvement in services."  Wingspan's customers have received a half-dozen letters from BankOne, detailing the changes and reductions in service and increased costs, and every one of these letters is accompanied by large-print blather exclaiming how much better we'll all be served by Bank One. 

I gave BankOne a two week trial and suffered the consequences.  Afterwards, I started looking for a Wingspan replacement.  Netbank is where I ended up, but Netbank is no Wingspan.  It appears, in this economy, if you build a better mousetrap a large corporation will buy it and turn it into an overpriced foot massager. 

November 1999

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