Banks' on-line brokerages are having the same falloff in trading as their nonbank competitors.
"We're seeing investors sitting on the sidelines," said Charles Salmans, a spokesman for Quick & Reilly, a unit of FleetBoston Financial. "They are taking a wait-and-see approach."
Bankers and observers said they expect a 15% to 30% falloff in trading volume this quarter from the highs of the spring. Nonbank brokers, such as E-Trade Group, that focus on on-line trading are also reporting a decrease in investor activity.
Darren Earnhardt, assistant vice president and manager of the brokerage arm of BB&T Corp. of Winston-Salem, N.C., said Hurricane Floyd also hurt, stalling business across the board. BB&T Investment Services is still a bit off pace, seeing 15 to 20 trades a day and signing up a few customers every week, he said.
Bank brokerage chiefs must adjust to the seasonality of the business, said Christopher Musto, an analyst with Gomez Advisors of Lincoln, Mass.
A look at recent trading offers a snapshot of the rocky ride that investors have taken.
For the week that ended Oct. 22, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 450.54 points, or 4.5%, the average's best since July. But it came on the heels of a sharp decline: During the previous week the market had its largest drop in a decade, 5.9%. By midday Friday, the index was up 276.7 points, or 2.64%, for the week.
Even without the market's swings, banks have to deal with competitive pressures, including nascent efforts by nondiscount shops such as Merrill Lynch & Co. and Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. They are offering investors a similar menu to that of banks -- Web trading for commission prices in the low teens and accounts that offer a combination of advice and on-line trading.
Some banks are fighting back.
To make its site more appealing, the Web brokerage at Detroit-based Comerica Inc. recently added enhancements that make it easier for customers to receive information, said Larry Kreul, managing director for the discount brokerage unit.
Despite a dip in on-line trading, Mr. Kreul said, the unit is stepping up its advertising to bank customers and employees.
Some banking companies find themselves launching their Web trading programs during volatile periods.
Huntington Bancshares of Columbus, Ohio, started its Internet brokerage Oct. 4, and its chief said the strategy remains sound. Volatility aside, "there are important reasons for offering the service," said Rob Comfort, senior managing director of Huntington's brokerage.
Mr. Comfort said the reasons included enhancing Huntington's Web site, providing more complete service, and being accessible to customers who want to do their own trading.