More big banks are actively marketing a type of deposit account in which excess balances are swept into short-term investments, according to a consultant's research.
Each day, these so-called sweep accounts move some $27 billion from deposit accounts into short-term investments including government securities, mutual funds, and commercial paper.
Eight in 10 of the country's 100 largest banks offer this service, according to an annual cash management survey by Ernst & Young.
But half of those offering the service are somewhat tepid in their marketing of these accounts. Specifically,. they only make sweep accounts available to selected customers.
But according to the survey, big banks are warming up to the service.
In 1992, only three of the 18 banking companies with more than $30 billion of assets actively sold the service to all of their corporate customers. That rose to six of these banking companies in 1993, and one more bank joined the group as of early this year, when the most recent survey was completed.
One third of all the respondents now actively sell sweep accounts to all of their corporate customers, up from a fifth in 1992.
"This marks a dramatic departure from the early 1990s, when sweeps were offered primarily as a defensive measure," Lawrence Forman, an Ernst & Young consultant, wrote in a summary of the survey.
For years, many big banks were reluctant to sell sweep accounts because of concerns they would siphon off deposits from which banks made fat profits into investments from which banks collect slim fees.
But Mr. Forman said many bankers are now realizing that if they don't sell sweep accounts they'll lose the deposits anyway.
Selling sweep accounts "is better than nothing," Mr. Forman said.
According to the survey, 37,000 bank customers now use sweep accounts. These counts are structured in such a way that cash in excess of a deposit minimum is transferred by computer into investments held overnight or for no more than a day or two.
Sweep accounts are popular with corporations for cash management purposes, and with wealthy investors for maximizing returns.
Just over a third of the banks surveyed made mutual funds available for sweep accounts. More than a quarter of the swept assets go into mutual funds. However, repurchase agreements attracted more dollars. Repos, normally for government securities, got 44% of the money.
The survey showed a marked increase in the linking of proprietary mutual funds to sweep accounts. Nearly three-quarters of the banks making mutual funds available offered proprietary funds as investment options, compared to about 52% that did so last year.
By contrast, other companies' mutual funds were made available by 48% of the banks offering mutual fund investments, down from 56% that did so in 1993.
Just over half of the responding banks required a minimum investment for all types of sweeps, down from the 70% of banks that did so last year. A quarter of the respondents didn't require any minimum investments, while a fifth required minimums for only some types of investments.
Several respondents said their banks had a $1,000 sweep minimum. Four respondents said $100,000 was their bank's minimum. The median minimum sweep in the survey was $25,000.