Prefab Web Sites Help Small Banks Compete: Designers' Mission Is to Provide 'Sophisticated Internet Software Available to Larger Banks at a Fraction of the Cost'
Knapschaefer, Johanna, American Banker
In 1997, when JoAnn Pankey became marketing coordinator at the $160 million-asset Northwest Bank and Trust Co. in Davenport, Iowa, one of her first tasks was to create a Web site.
But Ms. Pankey was an Internet novice, and the bank was not willing to invest the $30,000 that had been quoted it to build a customized site.
Then a bank consultant recommended a Web site creation tool developed by Banksite Services in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The company's Banksite Wizard software enables nondesigners to create bank Web sites using ready-made templates, easy instructions, and support services. The price starts at $2,500 a year.
By using Banksite Wizard "I was able to put up a Web site within a few days using the automated Web design templates," Ms. Pankey said. Without prior knowledge of HTML code, Ms. Pankey used Banksite Wizard to make changes to the Web site.
Since launching its site, Northwest has added online loan applications and a check-ordering function. Its customers may also choose from five calculators that help them determine their eligibility for car loans and mortgages.
"When I want a new button, I simply e-mail the request to Banksite Services and the changes are made within 24 hours," Ms. Pankey said.
Northwest also uses Banksite Services to direct customers to banksweepmanager.com, a new Internet program it developed in-house.
Banksweepmanager allows commercial customers to earn interest on checking accounts. Northwest had approached a local Internet technology firm to help set up the link to Banksweepmanager, but the firm would have charged five times what Banksite did for the same service.
After a free 90-day trial, banks pay an annual fee of $2,500 for a package with 12 months of Web hosting and marketing support, including 10 interactive self-tests to help banks assess their ability to attract qualified loan, deposit, and investment prospects using the sites they have developed. The basic service also includes a rotating banner that links the bank to a national directory of banks using Banksite Services.
Once a bank has completed its basic site, it has the option of integrating additional Banksite products for a fee. These include online banking and bill payment, instant credit reports, and Internet lending software.
Ira Aurit, president of Banksite Services, developed Banksite Wizard's prototype in 1996 using a series of automated design templates. Mr. Aurit, who had long worked as a marketer for community banks, targeted his software products in the same direction. The company's mission, he said, "is to provide community banks with the same type of sophisticated Internet products available to larger institutions but at a fraction of the cost."
In November, Mr. Aurit unveiled an updated Banksite Wizard with new capabilities, including functions that allow customers to edit all pages on the Web site, instantly upload images or logos to the site, and change the color, size and font style of headlines. "We can do anything that a sophisticated Web designer can do with a Web page," he said.
Others say ready-made Web sites have shortcomings, including a cookie-cutter look.
"You can change the colors and content of your site, but it will have the same look and feel of everybody else who uses the service," said Michelle Karas, assistant vice president at the $700 million-asset Citizens and Northern Bank in Wellsboro, Pa. …