Shopping for a home can be really taxing. Just look at the investment products marketing firms that have spent the past four months shopping around for a trade group where they can all settle down.

Last week, 30 investment marketers crowded into a meeting room at a Bank Securities Association conference in Phoenix to decide if they could house a mini-trade group within the organization. They adjourned after several hours without deciding anything.

Similar discussions have been held with the Securities Industry Association and under the aegis of Van Kampen Merritt, a mutual fund company in Oak Terrace, Ill. The effort is headed by Brewster Ellis, president of the financial institutions division of Robert Thomas Securities, St. Petersburg, Fla.

But the BSA session, which had been heralded as a defining event, quickly broke down into squabbles. Although marketing executives would not go on record with their criticism, they privately called the meeting a disappointment.

Marketers agree on one point: "We need one voice in the industry," said John A. Richter, head of marketing at Invest Financial Corp., Tampa, Fla.

The problems with finding a forum for investment products marketers reflects the companies' nebulous identity. In effect, these firms are brokerages-for-hire. As a result, they don't quite fit in with banks or with mainstream brokerage operations.

The BSA meeting apparently ended an agreement to "continue the dialogue." But the firms are also talking about forming their own group. And some are ready to go their own way.

Thomas Gunderson, chairman of Investment Centers of America, Bismarck, N.D., said he is inclined to join the Securities Industry Association.

"They have legal staff, they know all the players in Congress. They have been dealing in securities forever," Mr. Gunderson said.

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