BB&T Financial Corp. is weighing in with a New Year's resolution to make 1994 a breakout year for retail investment product sales.

In taking steps to make the resolution a reality, the Wilson, N.C., bank this month set up its first retail investment products marketing arm, BB&T Investment Services.

Till now, the bank has been offering a limited menu of investment products - including the proprietary BB&T Funds - to a narrow customer base, primarily high-net-worth individuals.

One-Stop Shopping

The shift to retail sales will help the bank become a "one-stop financial center," John Allison, said chief executive of BB&T Financial Corp.

Under the initiative, BB&T Investment Services will route its trades though Stephens Inc., a brokerage firm based in Little-Rock, Ark. BB&T will handle all other responsibilities, including order entry and processing, and supplying on-line investment information.

BB&T has spent the past few months installing tens of thousands of dollars of computer equipment to bring the program up to speed.

Antiquated System

Robin Moser, president of BB&T Investment Services, says the automation is a welcome alternative to an old system that relied on filing cabinets and manual entries.

"This took us from the 1950s to the 1990s," Ms. Moser said.

BB&T Investment Services is staffed by 16 sales representatives who previously spent most of their time behind the scenes in the municipal bond department.

Now, these representatives -- and 16 more the bank plans to hire next year -- will be stationed in branches serving BB&T's retail customers.

The representatives carry Series 7 licenses issued by the National Association of Securities Dealers. The credential enables them to offer a full range of investment products: mutual funds, annuities, and individual securities.

Help for Bank's Own Brand

The retail sales program could be a boon to the bank's proprietary mutual fund family. The six BB&T Funds have $375 million in assets under management, but to date, branch sales have generated just $25 million of that total.

The beefed-up retail effort "should help us grow fund assets," said Eugene "Trip" Purcell, a vice president for trust marketing who oversees the BB&T Funds.

BB&T believes the new program, with its expanded sales force and increased automation, positions the bank as a contender in an increasingly crowded marketplace.

"To compete with other institutions, we needed to move forward," Ms. Moser said.

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