Pop-up chats pitching products poised to prey

Filed under: Banking & Finance |

A number of banks are employing real-time online chat rooms to communicate with customers — and to pitch them additional services.

Whether the pop-up chat windows will prove to be a customer service success or an annoyance is yet to be seen.

Banks are monitoring online behavior and making split-second decisions about what product or service might interest a user. Once that determination has been made, a pop-up window appears inviting the user to chat about the product.

Some banks are steering customers to Internet pages that can be viewed by the user and a bank employee at the same time — a technique known as “page pushing.”

At least six of the nation’s 12 largest banks have developed live-chat pop-up windows.

Wells Fargo has used the pop-up chat for its home-equity customers since 2002.

Bank of America, which claims to hold more than half of the U.S. online bill-paying market, introduced live-chat options during the past year and has more than 100 full-time chat specialists. Citigroup Inc. is testing chat technology on its Web site.

Bank of America credits the live-chat with helping to fuel an 800 percent jump in online sales of mortgages during the first quarter of this year compared with 2005.

Citigroup says 90 percent of customers who receive advice through the chat window fill out a home-equity loan application – compared to about 50 percent for the banking industry overall.

Fingers do the banking

Zions First National Bank, parent company of Vectra Bank, is rolling out a security system that scans customers’ fingers to confirm identity.

The scanners measure geometric patterns on the fingers to match a customer’s pre-recorded pattern. The technology is becoming more common among banks and financial institutions.

Zions has scanners at a dozen branch offices in Utah and Idaho. Enrollment in the program is voluntary.

Whether the technology will come to local Vectra Bank branches is not yet known.

ID theft rule

The Federal Trade Commission and other federal banking regulatory agencies are soliciting comments about a proposal that would require financial institutions to develop their own identity theft programs.

Under the proposed regulations, the identity theft prevention program would have to include policies and procedures for detecting any “red flags” that could signal identity theft.

The regulations also would require credit and debit card issuers to develop policies and procedures to assess the validity of a request for a change of address, and requests for an additional or replacement cards.

Additional regulations would require those who request credit reports to develop policies and procedures for use when receiving a notice of address discrepancy from a credit reporting agency.

Comments about the proposed rules are due no later than 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, which is expected within a few weeks.

U.S. Bancorp earnings up

U.S. Bancorp has reported net income of $1.2 billion for the second quarter of 2006, compared with $1.12 billion for the second quarter of 2005.

Net income of 66 cents per diluted common share in the second quarter of 2006 was higher than the same period of 2005 by 10 percent.

Return on average assets and return on average common equity were 2.27 percent and 24.3 percent, respectively, compared with returns of 2.23 percent and 22.7 percent, respectively, for the second quarter of 2005.

Officials said the second quarter is historically the strongest of the year.

Citigroup struggles in 2Q

Citigroup Inc., the nation’s largest bank, is reporting a 4 percent profit increase for the second-quarter.

Net income increased to $5.27 billion, or $1.05 a share, from $5.07 billion, or 91 cents, a year ago.

Revenue matched the company’s record at $22.2 billion.

Analysts had estimated that Citigroup would earn $1.06 a share, and report revenue of $22.5 billion.

The report comes amid a decline in the stock markets during May and June, a time that Citigroup CEO Charles Prince called “one of the worst’’ periods ever.

The bank also increased expenses during the quarter by opening a record 270 branches.

Need CD rates?

Bauer Financial is reminding consumer that it offers nationwide CD rates through its Web site.

Rates are available at www.cdratewatch.com, and are updated every Wednesday afternoon.

Visitors can also sign up for a weekly e-mail and receive updated spreadsheets showing the top rates. To be added to the list, e-mail Bauer through its Web site and include “CD rates” in the subject line.

Business-friendly move

In its latest step to extend its business banking reach, Academy Bank has created the Small Business Advantage, a line of products intended to streamline business financing.

Small Business Advantage includes deposit accounts, cash management solutions and treasury services.

Rob Larimer covers banking and finance for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.