Society Hires Industry Star to Rev Up Its Funds

By Moore, Michael O'd. | American Banker, September 1, 1993 | Go to article overview
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Society Hires Industry Star to Rev Up Its Funds


Moore, Michael O'd., American Banker


Cleveland-based Society Corp. has set an ambitious goal for its proprietary mutual funds: $10 billion in assets by 1997.

Just how does the bank plan to get there? Chief financial officer James K. Wert has a simple answer: "There she is."

She is Mary K. Stern. Called Mary K. around the bank, Ms. Stern is drawing up a blueprint for an aggressive push in investment products.

In addition to training hundreds of brokers, Ms. Stern is developing new financial planning and asset allocation tools to help baby boomers and other customers plan for the future.

Melding Acquired Funds

At the same time, the Society Funds are being revamped. Mutual fund portfolios acquired through the bank's mergers will be combined with similar funds, and some new products will be added to the lineup.

Executives at Society express joy at snagging Ms. Stern from Norwest, where she had managed all aspects of the bank's mutual fund and trust assets for five years.

Ms. Stern, 44, had also worked for investment firms Dain Bosworth Inc. and Merrill Lynch, among others.

Industry officials give Ms. Stern much of the credit for the growth of Norwest's program. But the New Hampshire native declines to discuss her former job, saying only that she decided to jump ship to Society because the program, which is strongly supported at the highest levels of the bank, has great growth potential.

Strong Base to Build On

While Norwest ranked 12th in size on a midyear ranking of bank proprietary funds compiled for the American Banker by Lipper Analytical Services, Society came in 26h.

But with Society Funds' $2.6 billion in assets. Ms. Stern inherits a strong base to begin her efforts.

Sitting in a corporate dining room, high above Lake Erie, she speaks with authority about her designs, even though she's just three months into the assignment.

The first test of her strategy kicked off last week. Fifteen part-time brokers began selling funds in 11 of Society's 28 Columbus, Ohio, branches. Ms. Stern hopes to use the pilot to refine the strategy for a full-scale rollout by year's end.

High Hopes

Expectations are clearly running high, now that Ms. Stern is starting to put her imprint on Society's mutual fund program. She is even starting to get good-natured gibes from colleagues.

"The honeymoon period is over," boomed Mr. Wert during an interview in his corner office.

Ms. Stern, whose pageboy-style black hair is tinged with gray, smiled at his joke. Still, the weight of Society's ambitions rests largely on her shoulders.

A central component of the strategy is to dispel the notion that banks can't manage money. In particular, the bank wants to sell Society's investment acumen to its customers.

To drive the argument home, the bank has embarked on a television, print, and radio advertising blitz. Executives wouldn't disclose the price tag, but they acknowledged that it runs to seven figures.

"Banks are not a great place for money. Kind of reminds us of another famous myth," reads the copy on a full-page ad in a July 5 Business Week supplement on Cleveland. Below the ad is a Spanish galleon, sailing off the edge of a flat earth.

The advertisement also cites information from a CDA Investment Technology study that found banks have solid money management track records.

And it touts Society's investment arm's expertise with the $26 billion it has under management. The ad copy concludes: "To discover this kind of performance, talk to Society. Unless, of course, you still believe the earth is flat."

Until now, a customer wanting to discuss mutual funds in one of Society's 440 branches had to make an appointment with one of 30 salespeople, all of whom carry series 7 licenses from the National Association of Securities Dealers.

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