Like many banks, San Francisco-based Bank of California used to be content to let its products sell themselves. Not anymore.
The bank, with $7.3 billion of assets, has just trained and licensed 90 trust and private bankers to actively market its proprietary funds. It also has been teaching branch employees how to make referrals.
The efforts culminate today with an official reintroduction of the bank's investments products program. If all goes as planned, executives say, the new approach should triple assets in the bank's mutual funds over the next few years. The funds, launched in 1987, now have $1.4 billion of assets.
"We decided to change the culture of the bank and become sales-oriented and promote mutual funds," said Laima Kardokas, project manager in charge of the training effort.
In the past, the bank provided mutual funds only when customers requested them. Under the new system, it will have at least one sales representative in each of its 46 offices.
Focus on Retail Sales
The training program has put Bank of California ahead of most banks in developing a sales culture, said David Ross Palumer, a New York-based private banking consultant.
Bank of California At a GlanceHEADQUARTERS:San FranciscoASSETS:$7.3 billionFUND FAMILY:Highmark Funds, with$1.4 billion in assetsSALES FORCE:90 trust and private bankersPARENT COMPANY:Mitsubishi Bank Ltd., TodyoFUND DISTRIBUTOR:Winsbury Co.
The bank has become "much more capable of coping with a wide range of customer needs," he said.
Until now, trust money has accounted for much of the assets in the bank's Highmark Funds. And the bulk of the assets has been in money market funds.
The hope is to boost retail fund sales and significantly increase investments in stock and bond funds, Ms. Kardokas said.
The bank is offering higher incentives to employees to promote those funds. Specifically, employees are to be paid $25 for each customer they refer to a sales representative.
The bank kicked off three levels of training in March, and just finished June 15.
In the first wave, 90 bankers who serve high-net-worth customers and companies were selected to become licensed sales representatives.
After six weeks of preparation, they attended a two-day course by Securities Training Corp. of San Francisco to prepare for their licensing exams.
The group also attended eight days of training - covering product knowledge, compliance, and sales skills - conducted by the Ohio-based Winsbury Group, which is also helping the bank reengineer its product line.
Training for Tellers
Nonlicensed bankers also attended four-hour training sessions, to learn about referrals and the incentive program.
Tellers also received training in what they can and cannot say about investment products and how to determine if customers are potential fund buyers.
So why did it take so long to develop a marketing campaign?
"The bank had other priorities, like building up the deposit base," Ms. Kardokas said. "This year, the priority is investment products."
Bank of California is not a typical retail bank, noted Mary Anne Houlahan, senior vice president, marketing and distribution, at the Winsbury Group.
The bank, she said, serves anaffluent clientele and has relatively light traffic in its branches. Thus, it had little choice but to lean on its trust and private bankers for help in boosting sales.
Prospecting for fund sales will be done outside the branches, said Rich Guntrum, director of sales support and development at Winsbury. Bankers who serve affluent customers and corporate clients generally go to the clients' offices.
Marketing to wealthy people and selling to them on their own turf requires specific sales skills, Mr. Guntrum said. As a result, he said, "we had to build the training program from scratch."