JMC Group is reinventing itself following a plunge in sales that produced a $2.4 million loss last year.
The San Diego investment product marketing company is scrapping a strategy of serving just a handful of banks. Instead, it has decided to beat the bushes for financial institutions with as little as $200 million of assets.
"We'll go after banks in a big way," JMC Group chairman James K. Mitchell said last week, in a conference call to analysts.
The approach marks a dramatic shift for JMC Group, whose original thrust was to help larger banks maximize their sales potential. JMC Group's six clients include Barnett Banks Inc., Central Fidelity Bank, and First Tennessee Bank.
Mr. Mitchell said the company now believes it's best to "go after smaller banks and take more of a wholesaling approach" to supplying products and services. As a result, JMC Group will no longer insist on managing programs at the banks it serves, he said.
Mr. Mitchell attributed last year's loss in revenues to a writeoff related to a California investment sales program and steps the company took to begin restructuring. Additionally, investment product sales were down throughout the industry, Mr. Mitchell noted. JMC group took in $33.4 million for the year.
To date, a good deal of the revamping has involved an annuity program JMC Group operates in Florida for its biggest client, Barnett Banks. Last fall JMC and Barnett agreed to transfer most of JMC's annuity salespeople to Barnett's brokerage operation. That shift, involving about 60 of Mitchell's salespeople, will soon be complete, Mr. Mitchell said.
The program at Jacksonville-based Barnett remains under fire from Florida's insurance department, which maintains that JMC Group's annuity sales efforts are illegal under state law.
The department's "mission is to issue a final order" banning the program, said Mr. Mitchell. JMC Group will appeal the decision, he said.
In the meantime, JMC Group is devising plans to bring more banks into its fold.
The company last month hired its first sales team, a group that includes two former bankers.
Paul Ott, who headed Western Federal Savings Bank in Texas in the late 1980s, is overseeing the bank drive in the Midwest. Paul Melton, chief executive of First Commercial Bank in Louisiana during the 1980s, is heading efforts in the Southeast.
Tom Howard, who was overseeing marketing for JMC Group, is now scouting for bank business in the West. And Mr. Mitchell is handling the East while the company looks for a manager for that region.
The bank team aims by yearend to bring in a group of financial institutions that together have $16 billion of deposits, Mr. Mitchell said.
To handle expected volume, the company has become self-clearing. In this role JMC's home office will oversee the execution and processing of trades that banks make on behalf of customers.
Mr. Mitchell said JMC Group chose its new course after extensive research that included collecting and poring over 150 pounds of marketing materials and other information produced by rival investment marketing firms.
At least one observer questions if the steps are too late. Liam Wallace, a JMC Group investor who listened in on the conference call, said the company should consider liquidating or selling itself to produce a better return on shares that now trade for $1.50.
But analyst David West of Davenport & Co., Richmond, Va., said JMC Group is on the right track. "They've recognized that one of their weaknesses is a limited client base," Mr. West said. "I'm pretty optimistic this will be a turnaround year for them."