Texaco to recruit investors online with stock sales

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Texaco, which quietly unveiled a redesign of its 3-year-old Web site last month, plans to add a new attraction this fall: the ability to directly buy the company's stock online.

The revamped site, developed by interactive shop Agency.com, New York, is more intuitive and modern, said Mary Moran, Texaco's director of corporate advertising.

Among other capabilities that will be added, Ms. Moran said, is the ability to buy stock of the $45.5 billion company, which spent $48.3 million on measured advertising in 1998; it spent a minuscule $5,400 on Internet ads during the first nine months of '98, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

DIRECT WITHDRAWALS

"We are installing a piece of software that allows us to take money directly from people's bank accounts in order [for them] to purchase stock," said Douglas Czarnecki, shareholder services director at Texaco, a major oil and gas producer.

Direct stock sales and dividend reinvestment programs, thus avoiding brokers' fees, aren't new. But historically, transactions have been conducted via mail.

Several companies in the past two years, typically large businesses with relatively stable stock prices, have started posting instructions for investors. While they still must complete the transaction by mail, the online resource itself has been an important customer relations and marketing tool, industry observers say.

At the same time, investing through online brokerages, including E*Trade, Ameritrade and Charles Schwab & Co., has surged.

Average online securities trading volume jumped 34% in the fourth quarter of 1998, according to a report by Bill Burnham, electronic commerce analyst, Credit Suisse First Boston.

A few companies, however, are adopting the more direct route.

Home Depot is one company that already sells stock directly online. With its DepotDirect program, Home Depot will sell shares of its stock direct to consumers with a minimum investment of $250. Investors can enroll and make purchases directly online, and set up automatic deduction from checking or savings accounts.

BANK ACCOUNT DATA REQUIRED

Like Home Depot, Texaco will require customers to submit bank account information, not credit-card numbers. That's because the Securities & Exchange Commission doesn't allow investors to pay for stock with credit cards; that's considered paying with borrowed money.

Texaco has no plans at this time to market the capability outside its own Web site, Ms. Moran said.

While direct stock sales via Web sites shouldn't have an enormous impact on online investing in general, it does have another benefit for companies, said Dan Burke, an analyst with Gomez Advisors, a finance industry research and consultancy specializing in the Internet.

"It's an investor relations tool that allows companies to further endear themselves to their shareholders," he said.

Still, Texaco doesn't expect a surge in investing.

"There's little expectation of a lot of volume of business through this vehicle, but it's the place to be," said Mr. Czarnecki. "Our total philosophy is to encourage individuals to buy stock."

"The Web site will be just one more place to buy stock, eventually, electronically," he said. "There's no question that the future lies in this medium, and we want to be there. So we are starting it now," Mr. Czarnecki said.

Copyright April 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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