The Bank Securities Association has contracted with Price Waterhouse to conduct a "mystery shopper" program for member banks.

The effort, to be completed by late fall, is believed to be the first such venture by a bank trade group.

Over the past year, several studies by news organizations and market research firms have turned up problems with disclosure and sales practices in bank mutual fund sales.

In announcing its study, the BSA said it believes banks have made strides, and it will conduct the tests to gauge the industry's progress.

Those involved with BSA effort insist the shopping program will be conducted objectively, even though it is sponsored by an industry trade group.

Testers will not "cook the books" to make banks look better, said Larry B. Sobin, senior manager of securities industry consulting for Price Waterhouse.

So far, about 20 of the BSA's 150 member banks have signed up to have their sales programs shopped, said James Shelton, the BSA's executive director.

The banks will pay from $10,500 to $2,700 for the service, based on their number of branches.

Shoppers will look at sales representatives' compliance with banking guidelines, how they present themselves and the way they respond to customer concerns.

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