Team Bank is looking for a better toaster.

So, it seems, is everyone else. With deposit rates at levels not seen since the era of Ozzie and Harriet, banks nationwide are returning to 1950s-style giveaways to lure customers.

Finding the right gimmick isn't as easy as in the past, however. Small appliances, once the staple of bank promotions, hold little appeal to people accustomed to the lofty deposit rates of the 1980s.

Pat Genchur, vice president of product management for Team Bank, thinks the 1990s answer might be coupon books offering discounts on restaurant meals, show tickets, ball games and safety deposit boxes. Team Bank, a unit of Dallas-based Team Bancshares Inc., has offices in Forth Worth and Dallas.

Recession-scarred customers participating in focus groups told Ms. Genchur they wanted banks to help them stretch their discretionary dollars, and the coupons seemed the way to go.

The books are provided by Entertainment Publishing Corp., Detroit, one of the largest companies in its field. A company spokesman said demand from banks has gotten so big, the 30-year-old coupon company created its first industry-specialized division.

Mixed Results

Ms. Genchur said it was still too early to tell if the Team Bank promotion has been successful. But several other banks have used similar marketing campaigns, and they are reporting decidedly mixed results.

Susan Robins, a marketing manager for Home Savings of America in Irwindale, Calif., said her bank's use of coupon booklets helped attract customers to the bank's Silver Circle accounts, which require a minimum deposits of $10,000.

"Distributing coupons has been a success for us," said Ms. Robins.

But several other bankers said that their coupon promotions ended in disappointment.

"The feedback from the branch offices was that interest rates had bottomed out so much that the booklets just were not enough of a draw," said Jim Chomakos, senior vice president in charge of marketing administration for First Federal of Michigan, a Detroit thrift.

Last January, First Federal gave away coupon books as an incentive for customers to add $500 when rolling over a certificate of deposit. Mr. Chomakos said his bank's coupon experiment was supposed to have run through to the end of the first quarter, but the poor showing caused them to discontinue it in February.

CoreStates Financial Corp., Philadelphia, distributed coupons for a month longer than it originally planned, but also found that the booklets were not a strong incentive for customers. A CoreStates spokesman said the bank had no plans to use the booklets again.

Entertainment Publishing created its special division last September after receiving requests for booklets from banks such as CoreStates, Security Pacific and Citibank. Entertainment also printed the books for First Federal, Team Bank, and Home.

Other companies offer similar programs. The Detroit company's big draw is that, with more than 100,000 merchants under contract, it can issue books that offer discounts nationwide, not just locally.

Roy Skoba, the northeastern sales manager for Entertainment Publishing's bank division, said, "The No. 1 concern to today's shopper's is how to get more for their dollar. [Coupon booklets] provide a real incentive for customers."

Gary Huff, an assistant vice-president for Bank One Columbus in Ohio, said there were drawbanks for bankers.

Business represented in the booklets are not necessarily customers of the bank, he said. This was a major reason for Mr. Huff's decision not to launch a coupon promotion.

"Are we going to help businesses that do not bank with us, while hurting others that do?" he said. Bank One decide instead to give customers investment guidebooks.

Another drawback is that coupon promotions can be complex undertakings, according to one expert. Banks must carefully pinpoint the booklet's distribution, or it could be a costly mistake, says Michael P. Sullivan, president of Michael P. Sullivan & Associates, a marketing firm in Charlotte, N.C.

But ms. Robins of Home Savings said: "We have been getting positive feedback from our Silver Circle account holders."

Mr. Benson writes for the Medill News Service.

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