When executives at Manufacturers and Traders Bank decided to bring their brokerage operation in-house, they had to start looking for a new compliance officer to help oversee the project.

But the Buffalo-based bank didn't have to look very far. Right across the street, Key Bank was running a successful retail brokerage and its compliance officer, Barbara "Bobbie' Lopian, was well known in the banking community, having worked in the industry for 23 years.

"I wasn't planning to leave Key, but the collaborative approach to the business at M&T appealed to me," she said.

Ms. Lopian joined M&T last April and has been busy paving the way for the M&T Securities brokerage affiliate to take over M&T's investments sales from Liberty Financial Cos., the Boston-based marketing firm that has been running the program. The change is expected to be made early this year, according to executives at M&T.

"My biggest challenge so far has been keeping our brokers informed of all the changes (in regulations)," she said. "It's a full plate."

She credits the rapid expansion of bank mutual fund sales programs across the country for the increased scrutiny that banks have gotten from regulators.

M&T is also considering expanding even further and starting an insurance broker. Ms. Lopian's past dealings with New York State banking and insurance regulators in her job at Key are big pluses for M&T, said James A. Gately, president of M&T Securities.

"We went looking for someone that knew the (brokerage) business already," said Mr. Gately. "She's well known and respected by the regulators."

Compliance officers have become a hot commodity for banks these days as more banks jump into the closely regulated investment sales business.

"Compliance in general has become very competitive as banks realize that it's a crucial part of the business," said JoAnn Barefoot, president of Barefoot, Marrinan & Associates, a Washington-based law firm.

According to Ms. Barefoot, banks often have trouble finding people with banking backgrounds because of the relatively short time that most bank retail investment sales programs have been around.

"There's not a ready-made pool of candidates to choose from," said Ms. Barefoot.

"Some (banks) are having to look to brokerages, consumer advocacy groups, and even lawyers" to fill the positions, she said.

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