Banking ad war heating up

Posted: Thursday, February 24, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Get ready for the banking war.

Alaska banks and credit unions are planning to make the most of Wells Fargo's pending takeover of National Bank of Alaska. They're pushing their local status to consumers who might be uneasy about becoming a part of the San-Francisco-based Wells Fargo, the seventh largest U.S. banking company.

Over the next several months, home-gown banks plan to focus print and broadcast ads on the advantages of doing business with local financial institutions versus Outside banks.

Currently, Key Bank is the only Outside bank with branches in Alaska. Bank of America operated in the state, but last year sold its branches to Northrim.

Meanwhile, NBA officials plan to stress that Wells Fargo has no major changes in store for Alaska's oldest and largest bank. That's the same message they've used since the $907 million takeover was announced in December.

Among Alaska competitors planning a marketing run are Denali Alaskan Federal Credit Union, Northrim Bank, First Interstate Bank of Alaska and First National Bank of Anchorage, which is in line to become the state's oldest bank if the Wells Fargo deal goes through.

The marketing battle has already begun.

''We're saying that we're the home team,'' Keith Fernandez, marketing director at Denali Alaskan Federal Credit Union, told the Anchorage Daily News. ''We've started doing radio ads that talk about our Alaska-based call center and the fact that we have been here for 50 years.''

Northrim Bank is running a television commercial that pokes fun at out-of-state 800 numbers, which some national banks require customers to call when they need help.

''When you call one of those Outside banks with offices in Alaska, you're going on a long-distance voyage,'' a voice says.

A customer dials ''1-800-big-bank'' to ask about a loan. The banker replies, ''Alaska? Sorry, we don't make foreign loans.''

The commercial concludes, ''Outside banks really don't seem to care about Alaskans. When it comes to banking, you will always do better with a local connection.''

The ad was originally created to allude to Cleveland-based Key Bank's 800 number, said Marc Langland, Northrim's chief executive.

But it also works well for Wells Fargo because ''I'm sure they will use 800 numbers to some extent,'' he said.

Contrary to what Langland has heard, Key Bank's Alaska spokeswoman Karen Hill said customers are transferred to an 800 number only when the local number is busy or representatives are helping other customers.

Christine Newsome, the business development manager at First Interstate Bank of Alaska, said her bank is also stepping up its advertising, but not through ''mudslinging'' tactics.

''We are stressing that we are a local community bank and that we cater to the needs of the customer,'' she said. ''We're not going to beat up on those from the Outside because I don't think people take to that very well.''

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