At a recent meeting of state securities regulators, Philip A. Feigin, the head of the group, was called to the podium.
When he got there, he delivered a few lines from his prepared text. Then he took off his jacket, pulled out a guitar that was stashed behind the lectern, and began to sing, to the tune of the World War I classic, "Over There":
Spread the word far and wide to beware.
For the banks are coming, the banks are coming!
They want their chunk of market share.
The performance was greeted with laughter. "But it had the effect of alerting everyone in the room that the world of banking is changing," said Denise Voigt Crawford, Texas' securities commissioner.
When he's not playing the role of entertainer, Mr. Feigin, Colorado's securities commissioner, is an outspoken crusader for the small investor. This year, he's also president of the North American Securities Administrators Association, a 66-year-old group of state securities regulators that makes a mission of protecting investors.
As an 18-year veteran of state securities enforcement, Mr. Feigin, 46, has investigated everything from penny stock frauds to telemarketing scams.
Recently, Mr. Feigin has turned his scrutiny to banking companies and their retail investment arms. And he is not happy with what he sees.
"It appears some institutions, for the sake of profit, are taking advantage of a public good will that is born, not of the banks being good corporate citizens, but of 60 years of federal deposit insurance," he says.
Mr. Feigin stresses that he does not believe banks are engaged in fraud. Nor does he believe that banks should not be allowed to sell investments.
However, he says, "there's a schizophrenic culture. To be fair, the bankers either have to become salespeople, and knock off the Marcus Welby stuff, or be impartial advisers to their customers, and knock off stressing proprietary funds, sales contests, and the kickers to tellers."
As president of the securities regulators association, "he's very refreshing," says Patty Labarthe, a lawyer with the Department of Securities in Oklahoma.
Mr. Feigin's stated goals as president of the group include educating investors about "misleading sales practices" at banks and providing input into federal guidelines regulating bank broker-dealer operations.
State securities commissioners contacted for this story say that they have, almost by default, been thrust into the front lines in dealing with complaints about bank investment products sales practices. That's because federal and state banking regulators are more focused on issues related to the capital soundness of banks.
In the last 12 months, state securities regulators received roughly 200 complaints from investors about banking companies, and the number is growing as a percentage of all complaints, Ms. Crawford said.
The elderly are the most likely to fall victim to misleading practices, Mr. Feigin said. He cited a recent complaint his office received from the wife of a man in his 80s who put $10,000 in a mutual fund sold by a banking company without being told that the investment didn't yield a predictable return.
The complaint alleged that when the couple complained directly to the bank, they were invited in to talk to a vice president. It turned out that the executive was none other than the same broker who had sold them the investment. Eventually the banking company refunded the money.
His first brush with bank and thrift investment products sales tactics came in 1987, when on the basis of investor complaints, the Colorado securities commission filed the first and only formal complaint against a lending institution, a thrift that has since gone out of business.
The state's complaint noted that desks were not distinguishable from the desks of bank personnel, that papers often obscured the sign identifying the broker, and that the riskiness of the funds wasn't explained.
The result was that state securities regulations were tightened.
This spring, Mr. Feigin led his group of state regulators in joining with the Consumer Federation of America and the American Association of Retired Persons to publicize the topic of investment practices that are misleading to older investors.
The state regulators have also commissioned Prophet Market Research, based in San Francisco, to mystery-shop bank investment sales units for sales practices.
Some of the bank sales practices that the regulators finds objectionable are fairly common, such as paying incentives to tellers to refer customers to the brokerage or giving information about customers to brokers, such as who is holding maturing certificates of deposit.
In Colorado, Mr. Feigin enjoys an unusually high level of cooperation with Barbara Walker, the state's banking commissioner. They're married to each other.
"There's never a dull moment, and it's hard to leave things at work," says Ms. Walker.
"We agree on most things," Mr. Feigin says.
The two regulators say that their personal relationship has actually improved coordination between the separate agencies. For example, when the Colorado state banking commission got its first request from a state- chartered bank to set up a broker-dealer subsidiary, the two agencies worked together and the bank was soon granted approval.
A native of Levittown, N.Y., Mr. Feigin sold shoes and acted in musicals for three years after graduating from the University of Wisconsin. He went on to study law at Pepperdine University, graduating in 1977.
After a brief stint in private practice, he joined the enforcement division of the Wisconsin State Securities Commission. Then, in November 1982, he joined the enforcement division of the Colorado State Securities Commission.
Mr. Feigin also is an avid cross-country skier, a bird-watcher, and a fan of Arthur Conan Doyle mysteries. He says he's penning a mystery of his own in his spare time - "but I'll never get it finished."
Mr. Feigin says his goal in his job is to "even the odds a little bit in favor of the small investor, in the face of giant corporate entities."
One area that the state regulators association is looking into is anecdotal evidence that "bad players are moving from financial institution to financial institution, because there is no pool of information about these brokers," Ms. Crawford said. "Individuals with disciplinary histories in the securities field may be moving to banks where they don't have to be registered."
Mr. Feigin wants investors to heed his lyrical warning, written to the tune of Bob Dylan's "The Times, They Are A-Changing":
Come gather fraud victims, you are not alone.
Yes, thousands of folks have been skinned to the bone.
The number of hucksters around you has grown.
If your cash to you is worth saving,
Don't send in that check and don't answer the phone,
For the crimes, they are a-changing.