In its battle for retirement assets, a California bank is using free financial planning software as a modern-day version of the traditional toaster giveaway.

When customers open or contribute to a variety of retirement accounts at San Francisco-based Union Bank of California, they get a free copy of Intuit Inc.'s Quicken Financial Planner software.

Richard C. Hartnack, Union Bank's vice chairman for retail banking, said the promotion has attracted assets.

Mr. Hartnack said the software promotion - begun in mid-February with the help of direct mail, print ads, and in-branch displays - has already helped the bank meet many of its retirement plan targets for the entire year.

"Absolute numbers (of accounts) have been impressive," he said, without disclosing actual numbers.

Handing confused investors a sophisticated yet easy-to-use financial planning tool strikes one consultant as the right marketing move - especially as the April 15 deadline for 1995 Individual Retirement Account contributions looms.

Officials of Intuit said Union Bank is the first bank to offer the financial planning software, which carries a suggested retail price of $39.95, free to retirement-minded customers.

"Clearly it meets a consumer need, and it's a very clever promotion," said Les Dinkin, principal of NBW Consulting Group, Westport, Conn.

"They've pre-empted some of their PC-savvy brethren," Mr. Dinkin observed. "This is an offer you would have expected from Wells Fargo or Bank of America."

For now, the software gives only a "psychic link" between retirement assets and planning, Mr. Hartnack said, because the product doesn't offer direct access to customer accounts.

But that feature could be added if customer demand justified it, he said.

"Our whole concept is to offer our clients as much choice as the marketplace will support," Mr. Hartnack said.

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