While I was in Omaha last month I had the pleasure of meeting First National Bank’s Senior Vice President of eBusiness, Robin Nakamura. Since that trip I’ve been excited to get the opportunity to speak with Robin concerning the current state and future of the high-yield online savings industry.
If you’ve got your money in FNBO Direct, or with any other high-yield online savings account, I encourage you to read this interview.
PT: Robin, tell me a little about how FNBO Direct got started, including, the purpose for FNBO Direct (i.e. why First National wanted it?) and your role in building FNBO Direct.
RN: The president of First National Bank, Rajive Johri, had the vision to build the Internet Bank, FNBO Direct. I created the business and operating plan, sourced the web functionality, recruited the team and launched the Internet Bank. Everything came together fairly quickly – about 6 months from the approval of the Business plan to launching FNBO Direct in December 2006.
Today there is a virtual management team at First National Bank across 4-5 Departments for FNBO Direct. I head up the eBusiness team and support FNBO Direct marketing and products. My extended team also supports Online Marketing and Internet Initiatives for all the businesses at First National Bank: Merchants, Consumer Lending, Credit Card, Retail Bank, Corporate Bank and other businesses.
PT: In your opinion, what sets FNBO Direct apart from the other online savings banks?
RN: An obvious difference is our track record. We’re an all-American, 150-year-old bank. This gives us stability and the ability to be steadfast in our commitments to our customers and the community.
A key difference is our powerful combination of attitude, experience and innovation. We’re a caring team of professionals with the drive and experience to become the preferred banking solution for the Internet community. Many of us have experience in banking and Internet start ups.
In my case, I founded a company that provided web capabilities to large banks, including Citibank, Wells Fargo and Chase to name a few of our clients. Later, I headed up the eBusiness team at JP Morgan Chase and then Online Marketing for E*TRADE Financial. There are other team members with similar backgrounds, too. This experience was instrumental in the development of FNBO Direct.
Another example of innovation is our Tech and Data Center. It was the first of its kind in this country to be powered by fuel cells. We are often cited for that achievement. So we strive to do things that are right for the community and our customers. It creates customer loyalty and in turn benefits the business.
For FNBO Direct, our Pay Yourself First Challenge is an innovative way to bring our customers together. The PYF Challenge is a six-month online journey for five savvy contributors. They share their progress on how they are reaching their savings goals. It’s an empowering venue to help “like minded” customers share their ideas with each other. Please check it out at www.PYFChallenge.com because the contributors are truly amazing.
PT: FNBO Direct is currently offering a 3.25% APY [as of 10/22/08]. How is the offered Annual Percentage Yield determined?
RN: Our rate is typically determined based on market conditions such as, but not bound by, the Federal Funds rate, LIBOR [London Interbank Offered Rate], our competitors’ rates and other factors. We strive to maintain a competitive rate and evaluate pricing often. Today’s rate adjustment is our first since February.
PT: How is the current financial crisis affecting FNBO Direct, and how can customer get comfortable with the stability of the bank and the security of their deposits?
RN: There are three easy things that consumers can do to minimize the current economic environment: diversify investments and maximize FDIC insurance coverage; focus on low-risk instruments; and maintain an emergency savings fund.
FNBO Direct addresses all three points. As a result, we have seen an increase in new customer applications and balance growth. Fortunately for us, and for our customers, First National Bank of Omaha did not, and does not engage in any form of subprime lending or subprime asset-related investing. This gives us a very healthy position – we are stable and actually growing. In fact, Bankrate awards us 4 out of 5 stars in their Safe and Sound ratings.
For more details, you can visit www.firstnational.com to see a letter from our president, Rajive Johri, explaining the safety and stability of First National Bank, which operates FNBO Direct.
PT: Right now, you offer the Online Savings Account, Online BillPay Account, Certificates of Deposit, and the ExtraEarnings Visa Card. What other services and products do you plan on rolling out in the future?
RN: We will continue to research, and ultimately offer, products and services that are useful to our customers, focusing on competitive rates and products that add value and convenience. For example, in a recent online survey, we asked customers to indicate new products that would be appealing to them. We plan to match those results to our own research and test market those products and services.
We also look for ways to educate and provide financial tools to help people manage their financial future. We share good practices for saving money through our newsletter and enable our customers to share their experience. Our website for the Pay Yourself First Challenge is a great example of these efforts and you will see more initiatives in the future.
PT: Would you ever consider a customer referral program, similar to Capital One 360’s $25/$10 referral bonus?
RN: Yes, this is something that we are currently evaluating. Referral programs are common, traditional marketing programs to help find new customers. We are also using social media to help spread the word while rewarding our customers. The Pay Yourself First Challenge is just the start of our social media strategy to enable our customers to learn from each other, share their stories and be rewarded for their efforts. Visit www.PYFChallenge.com for more information.
A big thanks to Robin for taking the time to share her answers and to provide some insight into the past, present, and future of FNBO Direct.