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Online Bank in Play

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ING Direct, the online banking unit of financial services company ING Group, has launched an agency review, according to a consultancy that is managing the process. Bill-ings are estimated at $50 million.

Incumbent How-ard, Merrell & Partners in Raleigh, N.C., is not participating, said Rick Hooker, president of the Boston-based search consultancy Pile and Co.

"I can tell you we mutually decided to part company back in May," said HM&P creative director Scott Crawford. "We agreed to continue working with them until they could find a replacement."

HM&P won the business in mid-2000 in a review against three undisclosed agencies.

The shop launched a print, broadcast and collateral campaign in New York and Philadelphia touting the online bank's "bricks and mortar cafes" under the tagline, "Save your money."

"The premise is simple," said Crawford. "If you're looking for an alternative to traditional banking for simple products like savings, CDs and loans, they're able to offer very competitive rates."

Large, creatively driven agencies along the East Coast and in the Midwest are preferred, but location is not a strict criteria, sources said.

About 20-25 agencies have received the initial request for proposal, which is due back at the consultant in two weeks, sources said.

"They will look for a top-tier creative shop that can bring a personality to the brand, not necessarily one with traditional banking experience," said one source.