Perhaps one of the most intriguing avenues of marketing potential facing the trust and asset management services sector of the banking industry is the Internet.

Ten years ago, the Internet was primarily a text-only skein of computer networks used exclusively by government agencies and academicians; consumer use was at best the distant dream of a very small number of high-tech futurists.

Today, of course, the Internet has become commonplace in the scheme of things, evolving so dramatically that companies and individuals who are not connected to cyberspace are viewed as being behind the times.

Despite years of trial and error in launching the concept of home banking via computer (an effort which only caught on when computers became household staples, a fairly recent event), banks are relative latecomers to having a full presence on the Internet.

The industry's delay in getting into cyberspace is not too surprising, since the technology still does not guarantee all the aspects of privacy which customers expect in their transactions. But times are changing quickly, and the immediate future will see banks of all sizes stake out a place in cyberspace and use the Internet as a proactive marketing tool.

Although credit and loan services will probably dominate banking Web sites (as they do advertising, direct mail, signs, and other traditional marketing media), savvy bankers should easily recognize that trust and asset management services will be of prime importance to those who seek out financial information via their modems.

The demographics of computer users and their reasons for being on-line are changing rapidly. What was once the domain of younger people seeking entertainment and diversion is quickly becoming the realm of professionals who are using the Internet to handle multiple aspects of their business.

Indeed, cyberspace is such an essential function of corporate activity that many entrepreneurs who subscribe to America Online reported serious setbacks when it experienced a daylong crash in the summer of 1996.

Furthermore, today's average computer user also is more likely to rely on the Internet for financial advice. Indeed, many Web sites devoted to investment advice are among the most popular in cyberspace, and virtually every major mutual fund and brokerage house has one.

Thus, there is both a new audience looking for trust and asset management services and advice and a new medium to reach them.

The sharp banker who offers these services should be aware of that and react accordingly. In the immediate future, two things will happen relative to Internet demographics and target markets for asset management and trust services:

First, as the average Internet user gets older, he or she will find a need to have assets professionally managed.

At the same time, savvy banks will find new ways to profitably offer professional asset management services to those of lesser wealth than has been traditionally associated with bank trust departments. The size of the new asset management relationship will decrease at the same time the assets Internet users have available increases.

An exciting new market will emerge.

Computer sophistication in general will allow Internet users to shop for all types of financial services and then compare those services in terms of product features and fees. Users will be bombarded with information, and one can even see on-line "clearing houses" established to help them find the most attractive service.

But how can a bank promote these services via the Internet?

Marketing on the Internet will become much more targeted in the next few years. Despite privacy concerns and the regulations that will be issued, a tremendous wealth of information on the demographics of Internet users will be available as the next decade progresses.

Providers of trust and asset management services will use such information to target their marketing. Internet marketing is so "all or nothing" today that many net surfers regard it all as junk e-mail. But that will change as specific market segments become identifiable and banks expend their energies on reasonably well-qualified segments of Internet users.

We're not at that stage yet. Right now, banks with Web sites generally expect potential customers to find them, not vice versa. This new brand of targeted promotions will take a good deal of expertise in both financial and Internet marketing, so the most effective trust marketers will be those who know their bytes as well as their investment portfolios.

A key to this intriguing area is the development of improved Internet technology. Once bandwidths are expanded and video and voice are introduced on a mass scale, marketing of all bank services will be on the way. It will not be unlike current advertising on television, and the competition for the Internet user's attention will be fierce.

But this marketing will be much more targeted than current TV campaigns and will be used to retain as well as attract bank customers. A revolution is in the making, and bankers should keep abreast of it to ensure a seat at the table.

What are the potential problems?

In the beginning, as bankers attempt to identify the most effective method of presenting their services via the Internet, success may be spotty, and the easily discouraged will quickly proclaim failure.

This would be a mistake. After all, this is new territory. True, getting a real grip on user demographics will be hard at the start-but it will be easier later on. (Remember how long it took to get home banking going?)

There will be a learning process; some stumbles will occur. Bankers will keep examining traditional, conservative approaches to present their services to the mass market. But approaches will probably shift as larger banks devise more aggressive, though appropriately conservative, marketing campaigns.

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