As they fight harder for core deposits, many banks are honing their methods for targeting deposit-rich customers and jazzing up products to retain them.

Consultants and bankers alike say identifying the most profitable prospects has become even more necessary in an era of increasingly limited resources. Finding the most attractive customers, retail and commercial, is becoming more science than art, as banks go beyond traditional demographics such as age and socioeconomic status to identify the best marketing prospects.

"The focus is not doing a 'spray and pray' approach to deposit-gathering, but really having a targeted approach, so the results are much better," Betty Rengifo Tucker, an executive vice president at Comerica Inc., said this week during Retail Strategies: Deposit Growth, an American Banker online forum.

Seeking to lower funding costs and increase profits, banks are rediscovering old-fashioned research and face time. Comerica, for example, is going online to find cash-rich businesses that haven't been crippled by the economic downturn. The search engines help the Dallas company identify local trends at the same time it is training its bankers to sharpen their communication with clients and to get involved in civic activities, Tucker said.

More sophisticated prospecting methods are also in the mix. Bankers are looking beyond demographic data such as age or wealth, said David Tetenbaum, a managing vice president at First Manhattan Consulting Group in New York, in an interview. Some older people may not have saved a cent, and lot of wealthy people prefer to keep their cash in brokerage accounts versus checking accounts — meaning mass marketing efforts to each of those demographic groups probably would be wasted.

Consequently, First Manhattan periodically conducts consumer research and combines its results with data provided by the credit bureau Experian Information Solutions Inc. to develop profiles. The firm identified the two that are most desirable for banks.

One is "self-directed diversifiers," those who prefer to use online banking, mobile banking or other alternative delivery channels, and who have high balances in checking accounts in addition to off-site brokerage accounts. The other is "conservative branch" customers, people with high deposit balances who prefer to use branches.

In both cases, typical household balances are more than $35,000, compared with typical balances of $5,000 for the other personality types, such as "insecure debt dependents," those who might use alternative channels but tend to have low balances in their accounts and rely on credit more.

Tad LeBlond, another First Manhattan managing vice president, said banks can market products suited to those personalities, such as premium checking for the self-directed diversified, certificates of deposit for the conservative branch customer and free checking to the insecure debt dependent.

Other products — such as budgeting tools and reward programs for retail customers and online cash flow forecasting tools for businesses — are getting spruced up to grab prospects' attention.

Dave DeFazio, a StrategyCorps LLC partner who spoke at the deposit growth forum, said banks are linking their checking account offerings to savings accounts, such as the "Way-2-Save" program that Wells Fargo & Co. inherited from Wachovia Corp.

Banks are using online budget tools, such as PNC Financial Services Group Inc.'s "Virtual Wallet,", which allows customers to funnel their money into buckets labeled spend, reserve and grow.Banks have also enhanced reward programs to prompt behavior that makes or saves money for the bank, such as increased debit card use or banking online, DeFazio said.

National City Corp. developed its "Points from National City" before PNC bought the Cleveland company last year. The reward program is not only intended to attract new customers, but also to get existing customers more "engaged," said Bill Stamp, a senior vice president who outlined the program at Tuesday's forum.

"The value of an engaged checking customer comes in the form of greater cross-sell, greater share of wallet, and a stickier relationship, which gives us a chance to pass the critical 'one-year hump,' " Stamp said.

To get the primary deposit relationship of a commercial customer, banks need strong cash management offerings, said Stephen Baird, a director at Novantas in New York.

Many banks have developed enhanced features for businesses, such as Bank of America Corp.'s "CashPro Accelerate," an online product to help its business customers better forecast their cash flows, Baird said.

And to bring in more deposits from retail and business customers, banks have to keep developing new products to catch their eye, said Aaron Fine, a partner in the retail and business banking practice at Oliver Wyman Group, a New York management consulting unit of Marsh & McLennan Cos.

"If they really want to accelerate deposit growth, banks have to innovate and deliver something that differentiates them."

He said many banks are focusing advertising on the most profitable 15% to 20% of potential customers.

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