Highly trained salespeople armed with laptop computers are the future of BankAmerica Corp.'s retail investment sales program, according to John 0. Myers, chairman and chief executive of its brokerage subsidiary.
"Technology is critical for delivering high quality services to our customers," Mr. Myers told executives attending the Bank Securities Association's annual mutual fund conference in New Orleans last week.
Mr. Myers said his unit, BA Investment Services, recently began outfitting hundreds of sales representatives with laptops.
By January, representatives will be able to pull up customer accounts, and by midyear they will be able to access prices and transmit orders, tasks they now do by phone.
In addition to supplying immediate information, the laptops will make the sales representatives mobile, allowing them to work in customers' homes.
Right now, BankAmerica uses 400 sales representatives to sell investment products in seven western states. The retail unit will do about $2 billion in business this year, Mr. Myers said.
About half of the revenue will come from mutual fund sales, including the bank's own Pacific Horizon funds.
The rest will come from a combination of annuities, individual stocks, and other securities, Mr. Myers said.
By arming sales representatives with laptops, BankAmerica is making clear that it doesn't plan to rest on its laurels as a leading seller of investment products.
Hired from Colonial
In fact, the bank signaled its intentions to grow the business by recruiting Mr. Myers seven months ago from Boston-based Colonial Investment Services, where he was senior vice president in charge of bank distribution.
Since his arrival at BankAmerica, "We've thought long and hard about where we want the [investment product] program to go," Mr. Myers said.
For one thing, Mr. Myers said, he has decided to require all new sales representatives to carry Series 7 licenses from the National Association of Securities Dealers. These licenses permit brokers to sell a broad range of securities.
This approach is preferable to hiring representatives with narrower Series 6 licenses, or with a combination of Series 6 and Series 7 representatives, Mr. Myers said.
Banks could face a backlash if they rely on sales people with anything less than a full-fledged broker's license, Mr. Myers said.
"I can hear the wire houses and regional firms. They'll tell customers, 'It's great you got a mutual fund or annuity from your bank. Now step up to a real professional firm, with full-service brokers.'"
BankAmerica also sees its use of Series 7 brokers as a defensive move.
The representatives, because of their training and experience, are more apt to make proper disclosures and put customers in appropriate investments, Mr. Myers said. This is a way of staving off class actions that are sure to come when the market breaks, he said.