Last week produced the biggest percentage drop in the equity market in 10 years, but bank brokerage executives said they are ready to deal with any customer fallout.
For the most part, bankers attending an American Banker sales management conference here said they are doling out the same advice served up during previous periods of market volatility.
Mike Mortensen, president and chief executive officer of PNC Brokerage, a unit of PNC Bank Corp. of Pittsburgh, said a market downturn like last week's, which culminated in Friday's 266.90-point drop in the Dow Jones industrial average, should not change the investment strategy of long-term investors.
"We do not cater to day traders," said Mr. Mortensen, noting that bank brokerage customers tend to be a conservative lot.
However, Mr. Mortensen said he would ask PNC's chief economist to put together a two- to three-minute presentation to help PNC's 195 brokers and 200 platform salespeople answer investors' questions. He said he may also call on some of the mutual fund companies that sell through PNC, such as Putnam Investments, to put together presentations for brokers.
Rob Comfort, senior managing director of Huntington Investment Co., the brokerage unit of Columbus, Ohio-based Huntington Bancshares, said his company had started a program to get registered representatives to conduct customer account reviews roughly one month before the latest downtick.
"The primary reason was to address Y2K and yearend issues," said Mr. Comfort, who oversees about 70 full-time brokers and 800 platform reps.
Banks are in a tougher position than mainstream wirehouses and brokerage firms because they tend to have less sophisticated, more conservative investors on their books, said James R. Eads, president of Riggs Investment Corp., a division of Riggs National Corp. of Washington.
"We have a position of trust higher than other organizations'," Mr. Eads said.
But there's no point in reacting to volatility, he said. Instead, bank brokerages should be prepared for it before it happens.
"When something like Friday happens, if customers' expectations are already managed on the sales side, they're O.K.," he said.
To that end, Riggs has had a team of four reps -- out of its 100-strong salesforce -- in place since January and dedicated to taking phone calls. During periods of market volatility, " one of the worst things you can do is not get a broker on the phone," Mr. Eads said.
Banks have to work hard at ensuring that customers are buying suitable investment products and are educated about the risks at all times, said Paul C. Lubin, president of Barry Leeds & Associates, a New York market research firm specializing in financial services.
Investors through bank brokerages are "more novice folks" and in many cases have not been through a lot of market disappointments, Mr. Lubin said. When the market goes down, investors start paying attention to issues like fees and in some cases find they do not really understand them.
And there is still a lot of confusion out there. A recent study by Mr. Lubin's company found that only 60% of bank customers knew that mutual funds are not insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.
You can tell investors several times that a mutual fund is not FDIC-insured, he said, and they still go home with the wrong idea because they bought the product at a bank.