Ebank.com Inc. says it hopes its purchase of Peachtree Capital Corp. will help it cross-sell asset management services, boost its profile in its immediate region and nationally on the Internet, and build fee revenue.
The Atlanta banking company announced Monday that it has bought Peachtree, a brokerage and financial planner also based in Atlanta, which has $100 million of assets under management.
James Box, chief executive officer at ebank.com, said his strategy is in many ways similar to E-Trade Inc.'s move from brokerage into banking, though for ebank.com the move is reversed.
Among Peachtree's 2,500 wealthy clients, Mr. Box sees many people looking for mortgages and loans, but even more important, he said, is the recurring fee revenue that Peachtree's asset management business will supply.
Also, the combination of the two companies will make the bank's services more attractive to wealthy customers - both in the South and nationwide - who like the more personalized service of a small wealth management operation, Mr. Box said. About two-thirds of Peachtree's assets are in separately managed accounts, he said. Peachtree also sells life, disability, and health insurance, and it provides tax planning through its former owner, Harless, Pittman & Associates.
Shaw Lively, research manager at IDC Online Financial Services Research Group in Framingham, Mass., said that niche banks may have more luck cross-selling products and services than larger banks. "There are a group of investors who value convenience and relationships more than best-of-breed products," he said, and such people often gravitate to smaller firms.
The deal for Peachtree continues the former Internet-only bank's move away from small-business lending and into wealth management, Mr. Box said. Two years ago, when it became clear that Internet banking could not stand alone, ebank.com moved to community bank status by opening a branch office, he said.
Peachtree has for a while referred its brokerage and asset management clients interested in banking services to smaller banks, since larger banks are more likely to try to swipe their clients, Mr. Box said. For that reason, ebank.com - which has gradually moved away from offering exclusively e-banking services - already does business with many of Peachtree's Atlanta-area clients, he said.
"We married our referral base," Mr. Box said.
The deal, which closed Dec. 31, was for a combination of stock and cash. Mr. Box did not reveal the price.
Despite its community bank stance, ebank.com has national aspirations, Mr. Box said. About one-third of its $90 million of deposits comes from outside the Atlanta area, he said. Ebank.com has customers in 22 states, though most of those outside Georgia live in Florida, Texas, or California, he said.
Chris Musto, director of research at Boston's Gomez Inc., said that E-Trade Inc. has been pretty successful at cross-selling banking services to brokerage clients, so there is a possibility that ebank.com could do so as well.
At the same time, one reason E-Trade has been successful was its willingness to spread both ATM machines and other physical facilities around the country. For now, ebank.com has no plan to build another branch, though Peachtree's asset managers and ebank.com's bankers will set up satellite operations in each other's office, Mr. Box said.
He added that it can be difficult to sell products to people without having an extensive physical presence but that he is confident he will make some inroads.
"If I can get 20% to 30% of depositors using Peachtree, I'll be happy," Mr. Box said.
He said he also recognizes the importance of foot traffic and actual branches, and he acknowledged that ebank.com's having just one branch makes it "not the easiest to bank with."
A Web-only program is not enough to succeed, Mr. Musto said. "We have been preaching to would-be Internet-centric banks that you need a physical presence," he said.
Such a presence helps build brand awareness, bolsters marketing, and lets the bank or broker take advantage of foot traffic, he added.
Mr. Box said that despite the fact that Peachtree and ebank.com have just one branch apiece, the asset manager's site - in Atlanta's high-end Buckhead district - will attract a sufficient clientele. As for cross-selling out of state, the bank has about $30 million of deposits that come from outside metropolitan Atlanta, so Mr. Box said he is confident he will be able to sell asset management services there, too. "The Internet's done well for me," he said.