Hoping to polish their image as capable, objective money managers, banks are increasingly offering financial planning services to both their wealthy and mass-market customers.

Institutions ranging from Old Kent Financial Corp. - which plans to install certified financial planners in all of its branches by the end of next year - to National City Corp. want to sell financial plans to their retail customers. Others are actively studying whether or not they should offer the service, either for free or for a fee, through their private- client groups.

As a result, banks are hiring more and more certified financial planners. Approximately 5% of the country's 30,000 licensed financial planners currently work at banks, according to the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. That's up from only 1.3% in 1987.

Many banks, including Harris Bankcorp, Banc One Corp., Crestar Financial Corp., Norwest Corp., and Chase Manhattan Corp. employ financial planners as part of a formal program to sell detailed plans. They also have bankers in their trust departments, brokerage subsidiaries, or private-client groups who received the certification as part of their own professional development goals.

Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Old Kent - which already provides financial plans to customers with more than $5 million to invest - is rolling out a pilot program to offer the service to retail customers for fees ranging from $800 to $1,200. It is aiming to have certified financial planners in all of its branches by the end of 1997.

"If the customer wants to implement the plan with someone else - that's fine, we've been paid for our services," said James M. Knaus, a vice president in Old Kent's trust and investment management services division. Objective financial plans, he explained, can be 'lead' products offered to instill loyalty to the bank among its customers.

"We're not trying to jam commission products down customers' throats and they (customers) like that," Mr. Knaus said.

Another bank seeking to emphasize financial planning is National City Corp. Executive vice president Jeffrey M. Biggar is actively recruiting certified financial planners for the Cleveland-based regional's private bank and is encouraging current employees to get certified, a spokesman said.

At National City, brokers already work with retail clients on financial plans. While the bank has been offering the service for free, it is about to start charging fees ranging from $100 to $300, the spokesman said.

"In both cases - the brokerage and the private client group -they (financial planners) are better equipped to take a comprehensive view of a clients' needs," the spokesman added. National City offers so-called modular plans for goals like paying for college, as well as comprehensive plans for overall financial needs.

Seven other banks, meanwhile, have retained U.S. Datatron Inc. to draft reports on the viability of selling financial plans through their private banks.

"You gain fee income and incredible credibility. In all likelihood it will lead to the sale of other services," said Gary R. Cohn, president of the Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., research firm. "There is an enormous cross- sell opportunity because you're putting ideas in the client's head."

Seafirst Bank, a unit of BankAmerica Corp., is trying to bring financial planning to the masses. It recently began selling a 296-page book on financial planning for $24 a pop. The book, by W. Thomas Porter, an executive vice president who heads the Seattle-based unit's financial planning services division, is targeted to all bank customers, regardless of their net worth.

While large banks tend to employ their own financial planners, several smaller institutions have teamed with American Express Financial Advisors Inc. to offer plans to customers. More than 280 American Express financial planners are working in 20 community banks, 49 credit unions, and for 38 farm credit services associations, according to Mark Alfuth, vice president-general manager of American Express Financial Advisors' financial institutions group. The program is generating two and a half to three times as many sales this year than last, Mr. Alfuth said.

American Express began the program several years ago with First Bank System Inc., Banc One Corp, and Fleet Financial Group. Eventually, however, those banks decided to bring their financial planning programs in- house.

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