Banks need to take a fresh look at how they package and market individual retirement accounts, or risk losing additional IRA market share to nonbank brokerage firms, according to some experts.
Though statistics are hard to come by, anecdotal evidence from bankers suggests that banks have lost ground to brokerage firms, which have aggressively pursued new IRA accounts.
The competition has been particularly fierce in the category of self- directed IRAs, which are accounts that are actively managed by the customer and can contain investment products as well as insured deposits.
Firms such as Merrill Lynch & Co. and Charles Schwab & Co. have been marketing self-directed IRAs that charge little or no fees, and deliver consolidated account statements to customers - features most banks haven't matched, according to Rolland Johannsen, president of Furash & Co., a Washington-based financial services consulting firm.
"The problem continues to be that it's difficult to get an insured deposit and investment in one IRA without being shuffled to different areas of the bank, whereas a brokerage can offer one seamless account quickly," Mr. Johannsen said.
The result is that banks aren't tapping into the growing number of consumers who have left jobs with qualified plans and have a need to transfer their retirement savings into other plans or IRAs, said Ronald P. Thon, chief executive officer, Bankers Pension Services, a Tustin, Calif., retirement plan servicer.
Moreover, the number of new self-directed IRAs could skyrocket if Congress approves pending legislation to expand the flexibility of IRAs, some experts say.
"The No. 1 issue on people's minds today is planning and saving for retirement," Mr. Johannsen said. "And anything attached to that will generate the largest amount of interest for a bank."
For banks to compete with brokerage firms, Mr. Thon said, they will need to market IRAs more heavily, and offer broader investment options to IRA customers.
Many banks will limit the number of mutual funds available for an IRA when they should let customers choose from the universe of funds available, Mr. Thon said.
At least one banker disagrees, saying that they already offer enough investment variety, and that IRAs don't warrant extra marketing effort because they are only one investment service offered to customers.
Charles W. Shoemaker, senior vice president of consumer banking at First Chicago Corp., says, "We think, frankly, that building a relationship is more important than chasing a one-product customer."