ING Tries to Add Personality to Personal Finance
Costanzo, Chris, American Banker
Back during the dot-com gold rush, financial services companies were tripping over each other to sign deals with major Web portals and to pay millions of dollars for clickable real estate.
Now ING Group NV, the same institution that built one of the few successful U.S. stand-alone direct banks in ING Direct, is trying to refine the concept with a Web site that combines entertainment content from AOL Time Warner with financial advice from the Dutch financial services company. The idea is to offer more than simply a click-on icon -- and to do it in a way that holds the attention of Web surfers.
MoneyMentor is the product of the three-year deal that ING signed with AOL Time Warner in the fall, and that some published reports have valued at $30 million. The site, at www.ingmoneymentor.com, is a hybrid "as entertaining as it is informative," visitors are told. "With movies and music, you'll actually enjoy learning about your money."
Interactive segments currently on the site, which was launched this month, use video clips from "Chariots of Fire" and themes from This Old House magazine to take the edge off things like retirement planning and finding an adviser. It uses Flash and other leading-edge technology to link motion and sound.
The segments may not be as diverting as even the sleepiest of movie trailers, but they are certainly more captivating than the all-business approach typical of personal-finance Web sites.
"We're taking a stand on being a little different in a world of sameness," said Shaun Matthews, an executive vice president and the chief marketing officer at ING U.S. Financial Services.
Most of the money from the marketing deal will eventually will go toward advertising on AOL Time Warner television stations such as CNN and magazines like Time, Mr. Matthews said.
The effort furthers a strategy begun two years ago to heighten awareness of the Amsterdam company's U.S. operations, Mr. Matthews said. ING U.S., which offers banking, insurance, annuities, retirement services, and mutual funds, bought ReliaStar Financial Corp. and Aetna Financial Services in 2000.
ING U.S. has more than tripled its presence in the United States since 2000, and now has 10,500 registered representatives through a network of seven broker-dealers.
The Atlanta company spent about six months talking with media companies before hooking up with AOL Time Warner, Mr. Matthews said. The decision to seek a media partner was driven by research that found consumers consider personal finance overwhelming. They frequently use the Web to get background before approaching a financial adviser, but they find the sites tedious, they told the researchers.
The education-savings segment featuring Flash Gordon is one example of ING's attempt to make personal finance less mundane. Clicking on the "How do I pay for college?" icon sends Flash careening into view. A brief description of how lightning-charged chemicals transformed the unassuming Wally West into today's superhero is followed by "rescue strategies" for saving for college -- ones that won't involve "a chemical bath or skin-tight suit. …