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Joe Berkofsky
Joe Berkofsky
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First Citizens Skips Flash, Aims for Simplicity

First Citizens Bank of North Carolina launches a media campaign aimed at turning its highly regarded customer service for retail and small-business clients into a household name.

First Citizens Bank of North Carolina recently launched a media campaign aimed at turning its highly regarded customer service for retail and small-business clients into a household name. However, the promotion meant First Citizens would have to re-launch its online banking platform for the third time in three years.

Yet that didn't deter the Raleigh, N.C.-based institution from the challenge of designing a simple Web interface that lived up to its ambitious slogan: "Do something amazing."

"The main goal of this project is to reinforce our brand-exceptional customer service," said Barbara Thompson, a spokesperson at $11.7 billion First Citizens.

When First Citizens' new Web site is unveiled this fall, it won't feature new banking products or services, or cutting-edge technological tools. But that's precisely the point.

"This is about creating compelling content, not multimillion-dollar application development," said Rob Norris, president of Vialogix, a Charlotte, N.C.-based Web development firm that's heading the First Citizens Web upgrade.

"First Citizens' online efforts are really there to back up their branch efforts," he said. "Their best banking relationships are done in person."

The new site will serve to integrate the central message of the bank's ongoing PR campaign, and will map to the campaign's colors and overall tone. One new print ad for First Citizens, for example, shows one of the bank's executives, alongside two checkboxes labeled "banker" and "partner," and the latter is checked off.

"We want to bring that look and that focus onto our Web site," Thompson said. Thompson declined to say how much the bank is spending on the project, nor discuss specifics about traffic to the current and upcoming sites.

While a typical Web redesign can take from three to six months, this project will last six to eight months, said Vialogix' Norris. The extra time is needed not to build new tools or content, but to streamline current material and map the content more efficiently.

Still, the bank is essentially repackaging its Web presence, Norris added, and not undertaking the far more complex project of launching an entirely new site.

"This is not rocket science, it's http," Norris said.

Last year, Vialogix rebuilt the retail-banking portion of the then two-year-old First Citizens Web site. That project yielded valuable feedback for Vialogix from customers and managers who ran the bank's customer care center.

Vialogix has also worked with such online banking organizations as Bank of America, First DataBank and First Union National Bank.

For its part, Vialogix largely builds Web sites for financial and non-financial companies that know what they stand for, maintain a solid customer base, and emphasize personal relationships with those customers.

"First Citizens has been around a long time, they have great customer relations in their branches, but not necessarily online," Norris said.

First Citizens' current Internet site is strong, if not robust, according to Norris. Retail banking services include 24/7 account lookup, check imaging, fund transfers, bill payment, and loan application and payment.

Business services on First Citizens' site include checking and savings applications, collection applications such as ACH, concentration accounting and disbursement features such as automatic account reconcilement. The site also includes a limited navigation bar and featured content.

The new site doesn't differ radically from the straightforward look and feel of the current one, but is instead designed to appeal to First Citizens' non-leading edge clientele who "are not early adapters who just want to use the Web," Norris said. "They are not super-sophisticated technology users, so we need to make it fairly simple."

But that's a rule that could be applied to any financial institution's e-commerce presence.

"Your online customers spend 99 percent of their time on other businesses' Internet sites, and when they come to your site, they want to find what they want and be done with it," Norris explained. "They do not want to read a service manual to see how to transfer money around."


Fast Facts

INSTITUTION: First Citizens

ASSETS: $11.7 billion

BUSINESS CHALLENGE: Redesign newly built online banking interface to fit ongoing marketing campaign.

SOLUTION: Vialogix, a Web site design company.

KEY QUOTE:"This is about creating compelling content, not multimillion-dollar application development."

- Rob Norris, president, Vialogix

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