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Commerce Enhances the ’Convenience Experience’

Bank's free offerings now run the gamut from coin counting to online wealth management.

Commerce Bancorp (Cherry Hill, N.J.) has acquired eMoney Advisor (Conshohocken, Pa.), makers of an online wealth management system used by MetLife, MassMutual, Guardian Life and other financial services companies. The $32 million all-stock deal puts the bank in a position to change the dynamics of wealth management for mass affluent customers.

When Commerce Bancorp ($38 billion in assets) sought a software platform to support its capital markets and private banking subsidiary, it evaluated almost 30 technology vendors. "We weren't out there looking for [a company] to buy," relates David Hargarten, director of commercial marketing and SVP, Commerce Bancorp. But what Commerce found was eMoney Advisor, which not only offered the bank a viable platform for its wealth managers and private bankers, but also a way to differentiate the retail experience. And that's part of the culture at Commerce, which pioneered innovations such as weekend hours and free, self-service coin-counting machines, says Hargarten.

Soon, Commerce customers will be able to count their millions, as well as their pennies, for free. Later this spring, the bank plans to offer a self-directed version of eMoney Advisor, "Virtual Private Banker," free of charge. "We can provide our customers a great deal of functionality -- all of the aggregation components, the online vault and robust financial planning tools," explains Hargarten. "They'll be able to do it from their own desktop without necessarily engaging or paying for the advisory component."

While the offering may lead to new customers in wealth management and private banking, the primary goal is customer service. Indeed, users will be able to grant access privileges to their own attorneys, accountants and advisors outside of the Commerce orbit. "This is not about Commerce private bankers or Commerce financial advisors controlling all of the assets or accounts of a client," says Hargarten. "We hope by virtue of bringing [eMoney Advisor] to the client, they'll see us as someone who's constantly adding value to their financial services relationships. ... To us, that's a win."

Building Brand Value

"We look at this as a way to take the convenience experience to the next level, to a group that's not particularly using the branch," Commerce Bancorp chairman and CEO Vernon W. Hill II recently told investors. "It tightens the brand value."

Brand value is something of a mantra at Commerce. "Retailers know that the way to create real value is to build a brand -- not an ordinary brand, not a run-of-the-mill brand, but a brand where the customers are attached to you," added Hill. "Great retailers know they have to improve the customer experience all the time."

Commerce will continue to support and develop the advisor-directed version of eMoney Advisor, which will be marketed to advisory firms, broker-dealers and insurance companies. The Virtual Private Banker also will be offered to a select number of banks on an exclusive basis.

Commerce anticipates 18 percent annual growth in its store base through 2010, including expansion into the Boston area and Western Florida. *

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