In another sign that bank investment product programs have come of age, a new survey indicates more bank brokerages are compensating their sales forces in a manner similar to their nonbank counterparts.

Of the more than 3,250 banks that offered retail investment products last year, 36% used a "draw versus commissions" structure to pay their full-time sales reps, preliminary results of the American Bankers Association Securities Association's national survey of bank investment services show.

That's up from 20% in 1994, when base salaries plus incentives was the most popular compensation plan in use at bank brokerages.

By shifting to a draw versus commissions structure-under which brokers reach a specified sales goal to draw a paycheck and earn fat commissions on additional sales-bank brokerages are becoming more like big wire houses and regional broker-dealers. They are also becoming better able to compete with nonbank brokerages for topnotch sales talent.

"Historically, good people have been more associated with these plans," said Joel Calvo, president and chief executive of PNC Brokerage Corp., Pittsburgh. "It's an opportunity to get better talent."

In 1996, 35% of banks used a salary plus incentives structure, down from 49% two years earlier.

Some 1,491 banks responded to the investments study, which was conducted by American Brokerage Consultants Inc., St. Petersburg, Fla. That company's chief executive, Richard Ayotte, presented some of its findings here at the ABA's securities management forum last week.

Overall, bankers said they were heartened by the survey's findings. "We're starting to look more like regional brokerages and we could do worse than that," said Alan Leach, president of Deposit Guaranty Investments, Jackson, Miss. Many banks have only been in the brokerage business for five years while the wire houses and regional firms have been selling investments for more than 100 years, he pointed out.

The largest banks in the brokerage business are the most likely to have shifted to a draw vs. commissions compensation structure, the survey found. Of responding banks with more than $1 billion in assets, 53% had such a plan in place. Of the smallest asset-size category in the study-under $250 million-only 27% have shifted to such a structure.

Mr. Leach added that it behooves banks to pay their brokers well, as selling in a bank environment takes special skill. There are more regulations to contend with, and banks expect their brokers to deliver a higher level of service than their nonbank counterparts.

"In exchange for that, we have and continue to have the trust of the customer," Mr. Leach said. "That's our trump card."

The survey wasn't all good news for bank investment programs. It revealed, for example, that while a whopping 91% of banks sell mutual funds and 86% offer annuities, only 58% offer full-service brokerage.

That means that many banks still rely on platform employees to sell investments rather than registered investment representatives. These people are trained to push specific products rather to help customers meet all of their financial goals.

Indeed, the Survey found that only 25.8% of bank sales reps had both a series 7 license and an insurance license. Roughly the same percentage had an insurance license only.

"That's disappointing" said Mr. Calvo. "It points to the sophistication of the program. You want to have an investment rep sell all types of services. With a series 7, they can have an intelligent conversation and meet (customers') needs."

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