J.C. Bradford & Co., a regional brokerage firm based in Nashville, is testing ways to market mutual funds and securities through banks.
The company recently launched a pilot program it a community bank in Paducah, Ky. And if all goes well, Bradford may begin pitching sales programs to banks throughout its 15-state region, and beyond.
The attractions of securities sales through banks are pretty easy to explain, said James C. Bradford Jr., senior partner of the firm.
"Banks are finding a strong demand for investment products all over the country," he said in a telephone interview. "We're looking at them because 20% to 25% of mutual funds are sold through banks now."
Regional brokerage firms are seen by many banks as competitors, but increasingly banks are turning to these companies for their sales expertise.
A Learning Experience
Bradford's first bank client is Citizens Bank & Trust, the flagship unit of $600 million-asset CBT Corp. The firm plans to learn from the experience before it expands into other banks, according to Jeff Powell, the partner in charge of retail operations for the brokerage.
"It's a new business for us," he said. "We plan on spending the next year looking at it and if it works we'll expand from there."
The firm's slow and careful approach may be a product of its Southern roots, according to both of them, but it also reflects an unfamiliarity with the banking culture.
"The cultural differences between brokerages and banks are legion," said Mr. Bradford. "We wanted to get this sock over the fence first."
J.C. Bradford has more than 640 brokers in 76 branch offices, mostly centered in the South and some in Ohio.
For its first foray into the banking arena, the brokerage decided to launch a program in a city where it didn't have an existing office.
The strategy, according to Mr. Powell, is to expand in areas not already covered by the firm's offices in order to take advantage of new customer bases and to avoid conflicts of interest.
"We just don't want to compete with our existing brokerage offices," said Mr. Powell.
William J. Jones, Citizens' president, said he paired with Bradford because he believed the brokerage had a distinct advantage .over investment products marketers. "They are in the business, not just providing a back room operation," said Mr. Jones.
The firm is a major underwriter of Kentucky municipal bonds, the security most favored by Citizens' clients, he said.
Familiarity with the region is another plus, according to Mr. Jones, whose bank recently ended an eight-year relationship with a top investment-products marketing company, Invest Financial Corp.
Bradford is well known in the South, where it has a reputation as a conservative investment firm that survived the 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression, he said.
According to Mr. Bradford, the firm prides itself on its oneon-one approach to investing.
"There are regional quirks," he said. "People here are a little slower - a little more people-oriented."