Print Page Close Window

Washington Mutual Announces Expansion Plans for Serving Small Business
Free Business Checking to Roll Out Following Successful Pilot; Small Business "Champion" in Each Financial Center

SEATTLE, Mar 8, 2004 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- Washington Mutual Inc. (NYSE:WM), one of the nation's leading retailers of financial services, today announced that its banking subsidiaries are significantly expanding their emphasis on small business and are launching Free Business Checking as a signature product.

"During the past several years, we have successfully expanded our retail banking network, and we are now broadening our support of other areas of our business, including small business," stated Deanna Oppenheimer, president of the Consumer Group at Washington Mutual. "Our research indicates that small business customers want the convenience of banking in one place for both their personal and business needs. Furthermore, like our consumer customers, small businesses don't want to be nickel-and-dimed for basic checking services -- a fact that was underscored in a successful Free Business Checking pilot held in Texas last year in which we saw better-than-expected results in the number of new accounts opened."

Oppenheimer noted that Washington Mutual is the first of the top 10 financial institutions nationwide to offer free checking with no monthly service charge and no per-item fee to small business customers. "There is a huge opportunity in the small business marketplace and this business segment is largely underserved," she added. "Free Checking is a core-relationship product for our consumer customers and has been very well received since we introduced it nearly 10 years ago. We are taking Free Checking to the next level and offering Free Business Checking to small business customers as well."

Washington Mutual, in particular, is positioned to effectively serve small businesses that don't routinely deposit or withdraw large amounts of cash, such as professional, trade, service and light manufacturing businesses with annual revenue of $5 million or less and borrowing needs under $250,000, with the exception of real estate-secured loans, said Oppenheimer. "We consider our 'sweet spot' for small business customers to be the micro-business segment, with annual revenues of $2 million or less," she stated. "These are everyday business owners who would benefit from the great value and friendly service we provide through Free Business Checking and our business specialists."

Small Business "Champions"

"Washington Mutual's focus on small business is more than new products and services, it's also about people and relationships," said Doug Marshall, senior vice president of product development and deposit strategy at Washington Mutual. "Our research confirms that business owners want to have someone in their local branch who understands their needs and who can serve as their main point of contact. Instead of directing customers to an off-site specialist, we have specially trained a small business officer for each of our financial centers nationwide, and they will serve as small business 'champions.' In addition, we are introducing regional small business officers to help reach out to customers in key markets."

Additionally, small business owners can access account information through Washington Mutual's telephone banking and online channels. Washington Mutual offers a broad line of small business credit products, including credit cards, an overdraft line of credit, term loans and lines, real estate-secured loans and leasing.

Washington Mutual to Sponsor StartupNation

To further enhance its small business focus, Washington Mutual has teamed up with StartupNation(R), www.startupnation.com, a Michigan-based multimedia company that provides small business expertise to audiences through a nationally syndicated radio show, online newsletter and business content. The company features the Sloan brothers -- Jeff and Rich -- who are successful entrepreneurs and small business experts that offer advice and coaching to new and existing businesses.

Washington Mutual will be a title sponsor of the weekly StartupNation Radio show. Additionally, StartupNation will provide valuable small business content for Washington Mutual's customers in its financial centers and on www.wamu.com in the newly created Small Business Resource Center. Regional promotional events in markets across the country are being planned and will be announced at a later date.

"Ultimately, we want to see ourselves as providing long-term banking needs for our business customers," said Oppenheimer. "With the added value of the StartupNation relationship, we are providing practical tools and resources that will help our customers succeed."

    Washington Mutual Recognized for Its Innovation and
    Retail Banking Strategy

Washington Mutual has been recognized for its innovation and retail banking strategy, both nationally and internationally. Fortune magazine announced that Washington Mutual was the No. 1 rated company nationally in the innovation category as part of its 2004 Most Admired Companies list, and the company was named the "Best Retail Bank -- Americas" in the Lafferty International Retail Banking Awards announced last November.

About Washington Mutual

With a history dating back to 1889, Washington Mutual is a retailer of financial services that provides a diversified line of products and services to consumers and commercial clients. At December 31, 2003, Washington Mutual and its subsidiaries had assets of $275.18 billion. Washington Mutual currently operates more than 2,400 consumer banking, mortgage lending, commercial banking, and financial services offices throughout the nation. Washington Mutual's press releases are available at www.wamu.com.

SOURCE: Washington Mutual Inc.

Washington Mutual Inc., Seattle
Mary Kelley, 206-377-6878
Mobile: 206-459-0394
mary.kelley@wamu.net
Customize your Business Wire news & multimedia to match your needs.
Get breaking news from companies and organizations worldwide.
Logon for FREE today at www.BusinessWire.com.