NationsBank Corp. is concentrating on its own region in the fight against the nationally known discount brokerages, such as Charles Schwab & Co.
The Charlotte, N.C.-based bank, one of the first of a handful to offer a no-transaction-fee mutual fund mart, is relying primarily on a direct-mail and statement-stuffer marketing campaign to tout the offering, known as Fund Solutions.
The bank has also put print advertisements for the "supermarket" in regional editions of The Wall Street Journal, Money magazine, Smart Money, and Kiplinger's, as well as in local newspapers in North and South Carolina, said Rob Gordon, a NationsBank senior vice president of investment marketing.
"Regional advertisements means they are using their geographical clout where they are strong," which makes sense, said Joy Montgomery, a consultant at Money Marketing Initiatives, Morristown, N.J.
Banks have to realize they are somewhat late to the fund supermarket game and have some catching up to do.
"Schwab is a household name," Ms. Montgomery said. "So is NationsBank - but only in its territories." Schwab's wildly popular One Source fund mart is known by consumers from coast to coast.
Another southern bank that aggressively sells investments is Barnett Banks Inc. The Jacksonville, Fla., bank began advertising and marketing its SelecTrack supermarket, which offers 65 load fund portfolios from 13 fund families, during the fourth quarter. Its campaign consists of direct-mail marketing to Florida customers and noncustomers and print advertisements in Florida newspapers and in USA Today's Florida edition.
Barnett will increase its fund advertising slightly in February and then become more aggressive in March and April, to reach investors looking for individual retirement accounts, a spokeswoman said.
Executives at Citicorp and Norwest Corp. are also said to be readying their own versions of mutual fund supermarkets. Minneapolis-based Norwest is still working on its plans, a spokeswoman said.
In competing with nationally known discount brokerages, these banks have the best shot where they already have customer loyalty, Ms. Montgomery said.
Banks have an even better chance of capturing current customers' business, she added. NationsBank is trying to do that with statement stuffers and direct mail.
Another consultant concurred that direct mail is an efficient way for NationsBank to get the word out about Fund Solutions.
"If they're trying to reach the millions of NationsBank customers who are already buying no-load funds in some form, direct mail would be the most efficient thing to do," said Richard Ross at Fifty-Plus Communications Consulting, Glencoe, Ill.
Marketing a mutual fund mart by mail is more effective than advertising only the bank's name, Mr. Ross said, because the advertiser should be specific about a specific offer.
Indeed, banks have more name recognition than Schwab in their own markets, said mutual fund consultant Geoffrey H. Bobroff. Even so, banks have had a hard time selling investment services to noncustomers, he said.
Though NationsBank is advertising and marketing Fund Solutions on its own merit, that's part of a larger strategy to help customers invest, Mr. Gordon said.
The bank thinks of its investment customers as falling into three categories, he said. Fund Solutions is targeted at what he calls "independent investors."