Three months into its test of an account that bundles banking and investment services, Citicorp says it has signed up at least 75 customers in Rochester, N.Y., and is on track to roll it out nationally in 1998.
Citicorp officials said the company has been pleased with the consumer response to the CitiSource account.
"We are right where we expected to be," said Kenneth O. Danilo, vice president and product manager of CitiSource, "and we are right on plan."
The product - developed jointly by the company's flagship unit, Citibank, and its Citicorp Investment Services affiliate - is aimed at customers with combined account assets of at least $5,000.
CitiSource offers integrated statements of banking and investment accounts. And, a key feature, it offers investors direct access to a supermarket of funds - 2,700 in all, including 500 that do not charge a sales fee.
Connie J. Cain, a spokeswoman for Citibank Investment Products, said all the customers who signed up for CitiSource are "self-directed investors." The account was designed for customers who are comfortable making their own investment decisions.
Bundled accounts that tie banking and investment services to a mutual fund supermarket are rapidly becoming a mainstream product for major retail banks. Similar offerings have been launched this year by NationsBank Corp., First Union Corp., and KeyCorp. But Citibank is the only one to announce plans for a proprietary fund supermarket in the New York metropolitan area.
Observers were split in assessing the Rochester pilot test's results. Citibank said it chose Rochester because its demographic profile makes it a microcosm of the United States.
The bank last month opened a "financial center" in the upstate New York city designed to showcase its investment products. The souped-up branch features a host of electronic services aimed at investors, including Internet access, real-time stock quotes, and large-screen TVs broadcasting financial news.
Les Dinkin, managing principal of NBW Consulting Group in Westport, Conn., said, "Upstate New York is a tried testing ground for new products." Citibank is using the CitiSource pilot to "gauge customer reaction and deliver against the product before they roll it out."
"If they are going to be among the first in this marketplace, the preemptive value is from fine-tuning," Mr. Dinkin said. "If they are first and do it right, their strategic advantage increases," and so does the bank's "ability to preempt the competition."
But Eli Neusner, senior consultant at Spectrem Group, a San Francisco consulting firm, said it will not be easy for Citibank to win investment customers. Banks "are still not seen as the primary source for investing. They are relied on for savings, checking accounts, loans, mortgages, and so forth."
Pioneers of the supermarket concept, like Fidelity Investments and Charles Schwab & Co., Mr. Neusner said, have strong ties to independent advisers and financial planners. In addition the nonbank companies have already developed large customer basesfor their brokerage services.
But Mr. Danilo begged to differ. Though Citibank has not had "the investor tools that most other competitors have," it has "a much more extensive array of banking products" and "a much broader and deeper distribution system," he said.
Burton Greenwald, managing director of B.J. Greenwald Associates of Philadelphia , said it's simply too soon to know whether CitiSource will ultimately take off.
"Rochester is not a large market. There is a challenge to rise above Fidelity and Schwab, and two to three months is not a test for viability," said Mr. Greenwald . "I expect Citibank is realistic and knows they won't have a payback in the short term."
The CitiSource concept is "an offensive effort to attract new clients," Mr. Greenwald added. "It's also a defensive strategy to retain existing clients."
And banks in general face an uphill battle when it comes to creating mutual fund supermarkets.
"No one has been seriously successful, and no one has blown the lights out," Mr. Greenwald said. "It's pretty early on."