Few banks have financial planners on staff Portage National Bank, a $100 million-as-set community bank in Portage, Pa., is an exception.

In January 1992 the bank recruited James H. Campbell Jr., a certified financial planner who had been a trust officer for five years at Mid-State Bank and Trust, Altoona, Pa.

His mission at Portage: to build a trust department from scratch by helping customers set and reach long-term financial goals. Under his leadership, the bank has built its trust business to more than $40 million on assets under management.

Mr. Campbell recently chatted with freelance writer Deidre Sullivan about how financial planning fits in at his bank.

Q.: Financial planners are something of a rarity at banks. How did you arrive at Portage?

CAMPBELL: I've worked in other areas of financial services industry. Frankly, I liked the way banks did business. The level of trust and comfort that the average person has with a bank is high. They have confidence walking in the door.

At a bank, the financial planning process doesn't seem so sales driven. It should be solution driven. This means allowing that client to go other parts of the bank, or elsewhere if they have to.

Q.: What kind of customers do you serve?

CAMPBELL: We concentrate on investment accounts. My role is to take a customer from "What is your concern or problem?" to the solution.

That's where financial planning comes in. Customers usually come to my office [through referrals from] lending officers, consumer loan officers, and our customer service representatives. The employee who gives us a referral that results in closed business can receive an incentive payment.

Q.: When you say trust, are you serving high-net-worth individuals or a broader range?

CAMPBELL: We serve a range. The minimum investment to open a trust account is $25,000. In many cases, we've attracted money or retained dollars that would have gone out to mutual fund companies.

Q.: Are mutual find companies, then, your biggest competitor.?

CAMPBELL: Definitely. They have the ability to put a lot dollars into advertising and information pieces that illustrate what kind of yields are available.

Sometimes people go out and buy funds, but they don't know what they are getting into.

Our job is to try to educate people. In many cases people are better off with certificates of deposit. We help them clarify their objectives.

Q.: Do you sell financial planning as a stand-alone service?

CAMPBELL: We don't offer it as a service per se, although we have helped a few customers in this way. We consider financial planning a foundation for all activities in our trust department.

If someone comes in with a concern, we use those skills that financial planning gives us to arrive at a solution. Sometimes it means that they shouldn't work with us and we accept that, too.

We are currently working on a program that will allow us to do more comprehensive planning. But we want to avoid going out and buying a computer program from one of the vendors. We want something that is more customized to what we feel is appropriate.

Q.: If financial planning undergirds trust, how do you communicate this to different segments of your customer base?

CAMPBELL: We haven't segmented our communications efforts to a high degree, because we are so new. Frankly, there is a lot of business out there that we could go after without having to do that type of advertising at this time. That is somewhere down the road.

Q.: How have you been received so far?

CAMPBELL: I think very well. If you look at the cross-section of our accounts, you'll see smaller, middle, and larger accounts.

We feel very comfortable with the fact that we've often got multiple accounts with the same family or person. This means we are doing something right.

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