Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Retail Specialists Urge Bankers to Get into Marketing

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Retail Specialists Urge Bankers to Get into Marketing

Article excerpt

HONOLULU -- Your bankers may soon be out to get you, with sales pitches geared to your financial and social situation.

Reject stodginess, leave your desks, study customers' needs, retailing specialists told bankers attending the American Bankers Association convention in Hawaii's largest city.

Tellers must educate people about bank-offered mutual funds and insurance, trust accounts, stored value cards, home equity lines of credit. More services mean more fees -- and more profits, currently at record levels. "Everybody says to me, `What's banking going to look like,' and I say, `It's going to look like the grocery business,'" said William Seidman, a top bank regulator-turned TV commentator, who prepared a 10-point list for successful banking. "Marketing is everything because you're selling a commodity." The commodity sales already have begun in some creative ways, often at community banks. Consider South Umpqua Bank of Roseburg, Ore., where customers sip house-branded coffee at bars beside serpentine glass-block room dividers. They surf the Internet, watch business news on TV. And they are pitched "value packages" of bundled services at "classic," "premium," "gold" and "platinum" levels. It's part of bank chief Ray Davis' plan to expand from five to 11 branches and sell more financial products to every investor at each of those banks. So far, those "cross sales" have skyrocketed. "Bankers don't understand bank image at all. It's a sea of sameness," says Charlene Stern of Berkeley, Calif., a former Levi Strauss marketing specialist now applying those talents to help Davis and others abandon the "temple of money" look and attitude. The push to more user-friendly banking comes at an industry crossroads. U.S. commercial banks will turn a $50 billion profit this year. Bad loans are down two-thirds since 1991 and capital cushions against losses are at levels last seen in 1941, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Ricki Helfer told the bankers. But mutual funds and other investments have reduced banks' share of total savings from 34 percent in 1990 to 24 percent in 1996. To keep banks healthy, regulators are making it easier for them to provide more services, said Comptroller of the Currency Eugene Ludwig, another top regulator. …

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