Bank brokers' investment advice has gotten bolder in recent years, according to a study by Prophet, a San Francisco-based marketing consulting firm.

The study of 40 of the nation's largest bank retail brokerage arms found brokers more likely in 1997 than in 1994 and 1996 to suggest equity, aggressive growth, and international mutual funds rather than fixed-income investments.

The information was compiled through "mystery shoppers" posing as prospective investors from October to December 1997.

Fixed annuities were recommended in just 3% of the visits, compared with 24% in 1994. The most recommended product was equity mutual funds, suggested 37% of the time. In 1996, balanced mutual funds were suggested most often, 41% of the time.

The study also found that the brokerages that best served customers and had the most effective sales effort were American Savings Bank, Wachovia, BankBoston, Signet, and Great Western. Among the worst were CalFed, M&T, First Maryland, CoreStates, Home Savings, and PNC.

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