MUTUAL FUNDS may be just the start of a much broader menu of financial services from banks, the American Banker consumer survey indicates.
Additional offerings could include financial planning, securities brokerage, insurance, and travel services. Each attracts interest from at least a third of the banking public.
In the survey, conducted in the spring by the Gallup Organization, 12% of people with accounts at financial institutions said they had obtained a stock or bond mutual fund from a bank.
Of those who designated a commercial bank as their primary institution, 30% expressed interest in getting stock or bond funds from that institution.
The percentage saying they had obtained financial planning services from a bank was comparable, at 11%. But the percentage interested in financial planning was even higher than in mutual funds, at 38%.
While interest in securities, insurance, annuities, and travel services was somewhat less than in mutual funds and financial planning, banks clearly have the opportunity to fulfill the long-held vision of the financial supermarket.
"If banks get in gear and sell, there is a market there," said Edward Furash, president of Furash & Co., a Washington-based consulting firm.
"I think the banking industry is really waking up to the fact that we have to be retailers and marketers," said Samuel A. McCullough, chairman and chief executive officer of Meridian Bancorp, Reading, Pa.
But to succeed with the more comprehensive array of products, in competition with established firms in each area, "we will really have to be aggressive," Mr. McCullough said.
Bankers have gotten aggressive with mutual funds but with little else since 1990, when the last American Banker survey to address the subject indicated similar levels of interest in securities, financial planning, insurance, annuities, and travel services from banks.
Mr. Furash warned that the window of opportunity could eventually close.
"This is a market that is the banks' to lose," he said. He explained that banks' distribution networks -- essentially branches -- and the customers' long-standing trust make these services a natural extension of deposit-taking, lending, and transaction-handling.
Indeed, of the 39% of survey respondents who had obtained one or more nontraditional services from a bank, 57% said they were very satisfied, 39% said somewhat satisfied, and only 4% were not satisfied.
Those statistics are almost identical to the overall satisfaction ratings given by all 543 people in the survey who designated a commercial bank as their main institution: 56% were very satisfied, 39% somewhat satisfied, 4% not satisfied, and 1% had no answer.
In mutual funds particularly, banks have been aided by the low interest rates that encourage investors to seek higher yields. But regulations still constrain the industry in mutual funds, insurance sales, and other areas.
"I'd like to be a financial store, but I'd also like to take the [regulatory] wraps off," Mr. McCullough said. He added that the growing customer interest in getting these products and services from banks might help in the struggle to make the competition more fair.
Mr. Furash, however, sees a silver lining in the existing rules, saying, "I think banks should turn the new disclosure requirements to their advantage by outdoing the mutual fund salesman who doesn't need to make as detailed disclosures."
Mr. McCullough offers a simple formula for success: Build a good investment record, with the help of strong outside firms, and train employees well.
The high degree of interest in financial planning is "a real signal that there is a lot of uneasiness" with existing alternative, Mr. Furash said.
To capitalize, he said, bankers should move quickly to develop personal financial tools to help customers.
Many banks with mutual fund programs -- and outside companies providing services through banks -- have been rolling out financial planning services in the last six months.
The level of consumer interest is sure to rise as the public becomes aware of these services' availability at banks, Mr. Furash said. "I think that ultimately, with vigorous bank marketing, we'll see two-thirds of the market saying that banks are the place to do business."
No individual market segment, let alone the market as a whole, yet comes close to Mr. Furash's two-thirds projection. But some are close to half
In two groups whose members are relatively downscale but potentially mobile -- people age 18 to 34 and those with less than $40,000 in annual income -- the percentages interested in financial planning were 46% and 42%, respectively.
The appeal of mutual funds cuts more across age groups -- up to 44 -- and income levels up to $75,000.
In the over-$75,000 group, which is presumably well served by nonbank providers, a higher-than-average 20% has purchased mutual funds or securities from bank units, they survey said. About one in 10 have gotten financial planning from a bank and 34% said they would be interested.
The high-income group's interest levels in mutual funds, insurance, annuities, or travel services from banks -- excluding those who have already purchased them -- are no more than 20%.