Responding to sagging consumer demand, Mark Twain Bank is stepping up the marketing of its investment products.
While the St. Louis bank had previously targeted its affluent customers for mutual fund sales, it is now going after a much broader group of consumers, said Nancy E. Graves, senior vice president of marketing.
The $2.5 billion-asset bank is markedly boosting radio and print advertising for mutual funds and other investment products, she said. And, taking advantage of renewed interest in certificates of deposit, the bank also plans to promote CDs denominated in foreign currencies.
The efforts come as rocky market conditions are curbing sales at bank brokerage units across the country. Mark Twain's investment sales are running 8% below last year and a full 18% below the planned level, Ms. Graves said.
Heating Up Retail Effort
"Certainly we haven't seen the money coming in that we saw last year," she said. "But we've really gotten our retail effort going."
Mark Twain delivers investment services through Mark Twain Brokerage, the bank's broker-dealer subsidiary, which operates from 29 bank lobby offices, and two stand-alone facilities in St. Louis.
The bank offers its own brand of mutual funds plus those of several outside management companies, including funds from Putnam, Fidelity, and Franklin. The proprietary Mark Twain Funds, with $255 million of assets, are in the midst of a name change intended to minimize confusion about federal insurance.
The international CDs, meanwhile, are being pitched to customers who want to hedge or protect their deposits against fluctuations in the value of the U.S. dollar, Ms. Graves said.
Mark Twain is betting that its familiarity with international markets will help the bank develop a full-fledged global mutual fund some day, she added.
"I certainly think with our expertise in the currency and international markets it would be something we could manage," said Ms. Graves.
Mary McAvity, a consultant with Boston-based Cerulli Associates, said the bank's aspirations in the international area are in line with its strategy of mining certain niches.
But, she said, Mark Twain will still have to struggle to overcome tough market conditions.
Like most mutual funds, the bank's proprietary lines have been posting losses for investors this year. Its equity funds, for instance, skidded 2.78% in the three months through May 31, according to Lipper Analytical Services.
All the same, Ms. Graves is confident sales will pick up, though she was initially skeptical of the bank's ability to make a go of it in the proprietary fund business.
"We certainly have taken a more careful approach to this business, and I don't think we've been hurt that bad at all."