Ebank Exits 'Net; Returns to Brick & Mortar Roots

What seemed like a great idea just didn't work. ebank, an Internet-only bank that has operated online since June 1999, has significantly reduced its dependence in cyberspace in favor of the traditional, community bank scenario.

As an online venture, ebank has lost more than $6 million. Initially operating as Commerce Bank in Atlanta, management flocked to the Internet in much the same fashion as online rivals Wingspan and NetBank. Although ebank raised $15 million devoted to the Web venture, a second attempt to raise $45 million just didn't take off.

As a result, the bank has returned to community banking, and hired a new CEO last spring - Jim Box. Previously, monthly losses were around $750,000, but after only a few months, Box cut losses to about $15,000 per month.

The question on everyone's mind is whether Wingspan, NetBank and others will go the same way. The heart of the matter rests with actually 'lending' money versus depositing. Experts agree that depositing money over the Internet is routine, but actually accomplishing the 'lending' function is difficult. All this leads to less assets, and therefore, less income for the bank.