Drawing on feedback from Generation Y customers, PNC Financial Services Group Inc. launched an online banking site for them last week.
The site, PNCvirtualwallet.com, which requires customers to sign up three accounts, offers an interface designed to give the Pittsburgh company's customers a more visual way of managing their money. Terms like "available balance" and "ledger" are replaced with an interactive calendar that maps out customers' financial obligations for the month.
PNC said it designed the site in six months after spending six months researching how customers in their 20s manage their finances offline. The three accounts — one for checking and two for savings — are labeled Spend, Reserve, and Growth for the roles they are meant to play in users' financial lives.
"The customer is creating this way to manage their finances on their own and finding ways to set up the spend and save/reserve/growth system for themselves," said Thomas S. Kunz, PNC's head of payments and e-business. "They used these words with us. We didn't make these words up."
The Spend checking account has some restrictions. For example, the first three checks written each month are free, but each subsequent one generates a 50-cent fee.
The Reserve account, which pays no interest, is for short-term savings and overdraft protection on the Spend account. The Growth account, for long-term savings, pays a 3% interest rate.
Statements are available only online.
The accounts may not be suitable for all ages, but they are well-suited for Generation Y, Mr. Kunz said. "We try to make sure our solutions make sense for the customer segment we're trying to serve," and Generation Y is "the first group to grow up with the Internet."
In its research, PNC found that younger consumers viewed typical online banking sites as being presented in "almost accounting-type language," he said. They told him: "What I really want to know when I ask for my balance" is how much is available to spend without risking an overdraft as a result of a scheduled bill payment they overlooked. "We found customers had to figure that out on their own."
To address this concern, PNC created the Money Bar, which shows a line with segments in different colors representing how much money is in each account and how much is committed to things like bill payments. "If they want to change that position, they can easily move money in a familiar design — what we call a slider," Mr. Kunz said.
And then there's "Punch the Pig," a browser game that lets customers transfer funds into savings by swatting a cartoon piggy bank.
Though features such as the game may not appeal to an older audience, other features do, Mr. Kunz said. "Things like the calendar really transcend other segments. Our game plan is to take elements of this and expand this to other segments where they make sense," though he would not provide a time line.
PNC is not the first to craft Web sites specifically for a younger audience. One of the more dramatic examples came last year, when Common Wealth Credit Union of Lloydminster, Alberta, launched its Young and Free checking account and held a contest to find a spokesperson from Generation Y. The winner, Larissa Walkiw, was hired as a full-time employee and given a blog where she could post written and video entries for the credit union's audience.
Last month Currency Marketing, the Chilliwack, British Columbia, marketing company behind the Young and Free campaign, said Common Wealth attracted 2,010 members and $2.9 million of deposits through Ms. Walkiw's work. Currency Marketing is signing up U.S. financial institutions for similar campaigns.
Some bankers have sought to attract an even younger audience. ING Bank FSB, the Wilmington, Del., unit of ING Group NV, has had a "Planet Orange" financial education site for minors since 2002. Valley National Bancorp of Wayne, N.J., launched its account and Web site for kids in 2003 after noticing how many accompanied their parents into branches to use its coin-counting machines.
West Bancorp Inc.'s Smarty Pig savings account, launched in March in a partnership with Smarty Pig LLC, is not age-specific. However, like PNC's new site, it seeks to turn saving into a Web-based experience. Specifically, the account lets customers broadcast their savings goals online.
Edward Woods, a senior analyst at Celent LLC, the financial research arm of Marsh & McLennan Cos. Inc.'s Oliver Wyman unit, said PNC's work should spur others to update their sites.
"I think this will be a milestone for the market," Mr. Woods said. "As yet we haven't seen a major financial institution address in a serious way that Web 2.0-esque user experience."
Bankers who follow PNC's example, and even PNC itself, should not stop with Generation Y, he said, since many of the changes it made are not age-specific in their appeal.
Even so, it was wise for PNC to make these changes first with its younger customers, Mr. Woods said. Especially for Generation Y, the conventional way of online account management is "not going to be impactful."