SAN FRANCISCO -- CD sticker shock is testing the marketing prowess of California banks and thrifts.

With interest rates at their lowest levels in recent memory, consumers are thinking twice before rolling over their money when their certificates of deposit come due. That reluctance sparked at blitz of advertising campaigns as well as promotions ranging from cash bonuses to unusal maturity periods.

"California banks and thrifts are increasingly looking to specials to shore up portfolios," said Rick Barham, president of Market Rates Insight, a Mill Valley, Calif., company that tracks financial institution deposit promotions.

"They are doing as many innovative things as they can to keep core deposits."

Wide Range of Strategies

The range of bells and whistles attached to California CDs varies widely. California Federal Bank, Los Angeles, is offering a $50 bonus, free checking for a year, and 200 free checks to those who invest at least $10,000 in a two-year CD paying an interest rate of 6.61%.

Long Beach Bank, a state chartered thrift, gives a free $100 savings bond to customers who deposit a minimum of $10,000 in CDs, maturing in three-and-a-half to five years and paying from 7.01% to 7.4%.

Many institutions are promoting certificates with maturities of 4, 7 or 15 months. And some banks and thrifts are offering CDs that will let customers take advantage of higher rates should they go up.

A Changeable Rate

Wells Fargo Bank, San Francisco, for example, offers a $10,000 minimum, one-year "bump-up" certificate that will pay a higher yield if interest rates go up during the term. Sacramento Savings Bank sells a "Portfolio Plan" comprising five CDs maturing at six-month or twelve-month intervals.

"It provides a way for customers to stabilize their income and for us to extend the duration of our deposits," said Robert P. Gleason, a financial analyst at the thrift.

Innovative marketing tactics are essential because CD interest rates have plunged dramatically in the past year. Payouts in many cases are close to passbook savings rates.

On six-month certificates, major California banks paid rates ranging from 4.55% to 5.02% at the end of November. Thrifts paid slightly more, from 4.55% to 5.30%. On one-year CDs, major banks and thrifts offered rates from 4.71% to 5.91%.

A year ago, California banks paid an average of 7.34% on 92-day to 182-day CDs and 7.38% on 183-day to one-year CDs.

CD Outflow Is Huge

Relatively low rates have spurred customers to move funds out of six-month and one-year CDs.

California banks held about $10 billion in six-month certificates in December 1990, according to the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank. By September, bank six-month CDs had dropped to about $9 billion.

The total for one-year CDs declined from $12.4 billion to 11.4 billion in the same period.

Some of those funds have gone either to longer-term certificates that pay higher rates or to bank money market accounts, where rates are almost equal to those of CDs.

But an undetermined sum is leaving the banking system for alternative investments such as bond or money market mutual funds. "There is no question but that uninsured mutual funds are major competition for banks today," said Valerie G. Brown, a Bain & Co. consultant.

Bank and thrift tactics vary according to their strategies situation. With California mired in recession, and loan demand weak, many institutions are willing to let high-rate CD deposits run off.

Little Need for Cash

"The need for cash is pretty much near zip with the kind of loan volume most of us are seeing," said Lawrence A. Adams, a vice president with Bay View Federal Bank, San Mateo.

What's more, some still-growing institutions are channeling marketing resources away from CDs and toward other deposit products.

"We have been moving away from CDs as we get into the checking business," said Michael S. Aarons, marketing director of Great Western Bank, a Beverly Hills-based thrift. First Interstate Bank, Los Angeles, is pushing money-market accounts, Treasury bills, annuities, and mutual funds instead of CDs, a spokeswoman said.

Service Are Packaged

Some institutions offer CD promotions only as part of a larger package of services.

San Francisco's BankAmerica, for example, offers a high-end Prima account that combines checking, savings, and other services for those who maintain a $10,000 balance. It just concluded a special promotion awarding a 1% bonus to Prima customers who bought three-year CDs. The customers also got free checking, travelers checks and safe deposit boxes, as well as no-fee gold credit cards and ATM cards.

Even in a low-rate environment, some vendors rely on price promotions to seel CDs. California newspapers still run gian CD ads with rates highlighted in bold print. "Beat the Rate Fade," blares one such ad for Wester Federal Savings and Loan, Marina del Rey, offering a five-year certificate yielding 7%.

Western Federal is not in grave financial difficulty. But many of the top CD promoters are in the hands of the federal government or on the brink of insolvency.

High Rate from HomeRed

For example, HomeFed Bank, San Diego, which has depleted most of its capital, offers a 5.91% rate on one-year certificates, among the highest in the state.

Even those institutions that are not pushing CDs take pains to keep their customers.

With loan deman in Northern California soft and its checking deposits growing nicely, Westamerica Bank, San Rafael is doing "nothing" to sell certificates, said retail banking chief Robert W. Entwisle.

But bank staff members call all jumbo CD buyers when their certificates mature to offer them investment alternatives.

"I's preserving the relationship that we are focusing on," said Mr. Entwisle.

A number of banks and thrifts are taking advantage of their expanded -- but still limited -- powers to sell nontraditional investment products, such as mutual funds and annuities.

"Many institutions see a tremendous opportunity to market investment products to CD customers," said K. Shelly Porges, a San Francisco-based marketing consultant.

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