Consumers express strong interest in obtaining financial planning services from their banks, but an American Banker survey suggests there is a big gap between what they say they want and what they're actually buying.

The 1994 consumer survey, conducted by the Gallup Organization, found that 35% of customers who use a bank as their primary financial institution expressed interest in financial planning. But only 10% of bank customers surveyed had actually purchased a financial plan at a bank.

It was the second consecutive year that financial planning topped the list of nontraditional products that interest bank customers, outshining such popular offerings as mutual funds and annuities.

But many customers aren't willing to cough up the fees that typically accompany a financial plan.

"A lot of what customers want is fairly routine assistance, and they're not willing to pay a lot for it," said William O. Adcock Jr., chairman of Synergistics Research Corp., Atlanta.

Customers can pay upwards of $200 for help in devising a mix of investments and savings to meet their financial needs, according to Eli Neusner, a consultant with Cerulli Associates, Boston.

Though some big banks have entered the field, fee-based financial planning services at banks are still "very rare," Mr. Neusner added.

"You see isolated pilots, which never really seem to get off the ground," Mr. Neusner said. For instance, he noted, Minneapolis- based First Bank System Inc. recently scrapped plans to offer the service in conjunction with IDS Financial Services, a unit of American Express Co.

Other banks have had more success. Norwest Corp., for instance, has been offering financial planning in some of its key markets for several years.

In Nebraska, where Norwest first tried the approach, "it's matured beyond a test," said John McCune, chief executive of the Minneapolis company's Norwest Investment Services unit. "It's just a way of doing business down there."

Getting started can be a slow process, Mr. McCune said. "Part of it is just getting the customers comfortable with the process," he said. "The other part is getting people who can crunch these plans."

The consumer survey showed that interest in financial planning was strongest among bank customers aged 18 to 34, with 44% of survey participants in this age group looking favorably on it.

Mr. Adcock said he believes banks have a big opportunity to serve "the lower end of the market." Customers want help with such basics as planning their household budget, financing their children's education, and setting aside funds for future health care needs, he said.

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