NASHVILLE - Marketing needs to be a driving force if banks are to meet the challenges of the 21st century, according to former banker Walter R. Miller, now a finance and marketing professor at Quinnipiac College in Connecticut.
Speaking at the Bank Marketing Association's annual forum here, Mr. Miller said that while technological changes will drastically alter the way banks operate, it will be up to marketing executives to deliver banks to customers.
"We must take the lead. We must take that next step," he said. "And it must be creative."
Mr. Miller, who has worked at Mellon Bank Corp., Wachovia Corp., and Norwest Corp., said the banking industry needs a wake-up call, otherwise nonbank competitors will keep making deep inroads.
He suggested a national campaign to restore banks as the central financial institutions in the minds of customers, and called on marketing executives to do it.
What's more, he suggested that marketing executives play bigger roles at their banks and that chief executives acknowledge the importance of marketing in distinguishing banks from competitors.
"I think it's time our industry got up and said, 'We have to create savings,"' Mr. Miller said. "I think our competitors are out there outmarketing us and it's time for us to wake up. Marketing must prepare itself for the new competition."
If Mr. Miller's warning sounded dire, it was matched in meaning, although not tone, by five of the six charter members of the association's new Hall of Fame. (The sixth, former Federal Reserve governor John P. LaWare, was unable to attend the ceremony.)
The five delivered fond histories of their careers, capping brief speeches with similar urgent messages about a primary role for marketing.
Alex W. "Pete" Hart, chief executive of Advanta Corp., called bank marketing a "lonely" and "underappreciated" business. But he said it was in marketing that the boldest leaps could be made, and those leaps, while risky, would be the most rewarding.
"Too many banks think in incremental terms. There are no opportunities for marketers in cost reduction," he said. "The challenge for marketing is to find the organizations that will make the leaps."
The other inductees were Norwood W. "Red" Pope, an executive vice president of First Hawaiian Bank; James Donnelly, a business professor at the University of Kentucky; Leonard W. Huck, the retired president of Valley National Bank in Phoenix; and Richard M. Rosenberg, chairman and chief executive of BankAmerica Corp.