Affluent and wealthy Americans have never had so many choices about where to invest. So the banking industry's declining share of household assets was probably inevitable, given the laws and traditions shaping financial services in this country.

Experts agree that reversing, or even halting, that long-term trend is a formidable challenge. A perception lingers that banks' investment performance pales next to that of nonbanks. Competitors, ranging from giants like Merrill Lynch and Fidelity Investments to asset management boutiques, are in many cases ahead of banks in creating the right mix of products and service levels to appeal to the affluent.

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