Banks can double their mutual fund sales by profiling the behavioral patterns of prospective employees, according to a consultant.

H. Joseph Marshall, managing partner of Resource Management Associates, said using behavioral surveys can help banks select strong employees and then help those employees hone professional skills.

By using the surveys -- which allow prospective job applicants to rate themselves on traits such as aggressiveness and the ability to conform -- banks can identify which employees are most inclined to excel in sales.

Big Sales Boost Seen

Indeed, Mr. Marshall said, banks that use this approach for hiring and in training can boost their mutual fund sales to 4.5% of customer deposits -- more than double the industry norm of 2%.

"The next quantum leap in terms of profits and profitability will come from emphasizing people as much as systems," he told bankers at a conference sponsored by the Council on Financial Competition.

As an example, Mr. Marshall points to a bank in New York State that hired more than 40 investment product sales representatives using behavioral profiling three years ago. Those employees have outsold representatives hired through more traditional means by 65%.

Mr. Marshall spent years developing profiling systems for banks as a senior executive with Liberty Financial Bank Group in Boston before launching a consulting firm in West Barnstable, Mass., a few weeks ago.

Academic Credentials

The roots of his interest in behavioral profiling go back to the 1970s, when he earned doctorates in psychology, sociology, and human resources development from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

He picked up some practical experience in 1986, when he surveyed employees for E.F. Hutton. A skeptical executive there challenged Mr. Marshall to pick the firm's top six brokers from a stack of more than 35 surveys. Mr. Marshall said he swallowed hard, then correctly identified the six.

Today, he routinely demonstrates how he can identify the top guns at banks. But picking a top producer involves more than just finding the employee with what seems to be the right behavioral profile for the job. Sometimes a person's principles can override those behavioral measures.

Unstoppable Drive

In a recent challenge to pick the top producer at a New England bank, he chose an employee with a weak behavioral profile for sales who placed an amazingly strong value on success. This employee's drive to succeed was so strong that no behavioral traits could hold him back, Mr. Marshall said.

"Behavioral" profiling probably accounts for 75% to 80% for one's motivation," Mr. Marshall said. "The remaining part is very dependent on peoples' values."

Bankers at the conference pressed Mr. Marshall to endorse one of the handful of surveys on the market, but he declined. He said a bank must identify what it wants from its employees, then select one or more surveys fitting those objectives. He often uses two or more tests to assess workers.

Developmental Approach

In looking at surveys, bankers have to choose between two philosophical approaches. Some surveys are like litmus tests that indicate which people are less prone to succeed. Others are less black and white, and assume that employees can be educated to overcome weaknesses. Mr. Marshall leans toward the latter category, which he terms "developmental."

These developmental surveys are continually being improved to be more effective in identifying characteristics and how they relate to specific jobs. And the reports are easier for managers to understand than they were a few years ago.

But profiling has more uses than just in hiring, Mr. Marshall said. He believes surveys are a good way to train and retrain sales forces.

Using survey results to help employees understand and overcome weaknesses can improve morale and productivity, he said. You create an environment where they mature themselves."

Some bank brokers use an abbreviated form of the survey to better understand customer motivations. After interviewing a customer the broker fills out a form with 10 questions. The answers determines in which of six ways the customer learns.

If the customer is a no-nonsense type who just wants the facts, the broker will try to present information in that manner. For the person who likes chit-chat and socializing, the broker will present information in a more informal way.

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