For banks to keep or acquire a fair share of the available financial assets, they must be in a position to help individual investors find the right balance of risk and reward, suitability, liquidity, and growth.

These remarks apply equally to the competitiveness of third-party firms and banks. If your bank is not in a position to provide customers with this help, whether directly or through a third-party arrangement, then retention of customers assets will not be possible over the long term.

Other banks, other banks' third-party firms, and other financial services intermediaries are all working hard to win any business that you are willing to default to, them.

A Pool of Resources

Specialty firms have done excellent work in providing investors with effective advice on asset allocation, and positive strategies. They are involved in customizing and installing state-of-the-art, consumer-friendly programs in some of the country's leading banking institutions.

Banks that want to be competitive in this important investment specialty need to be aware of the help that is available and be willing to use it.

There is a logical sequence to the menu of assistance to individuals that should be included in the investment services program of any bank or third-party firm who wishes to become or remain competitive.

It begins with life, financial, and investment planning. Then it moves on to investment strategies, appropriate asset allocation - and finally, investment in specific securities or money management vehicles such as mutual funds, annuities, or wrap accounts.

Many bankers who recognize that this level of sophistication has become a competitive necessity worry that it may be cost prohibitive - too "nontraditional" to integrate comfortably, or requiring too much training and other support to provide acceptable profit margins.

Others are concerned that the number of consumers who want such services will be too few to justify their inclusion.

The answer to the first three concerns is to avoid reinventing the wheel in financial planning or investment strategy.

Specialty firms have assembled sophisticated turnkey packages that can be customized and private labeled to suit all but very small banks. These packages are available to banks and third-party firms.

By the Numbers

As to the number of customers who may be interested, part of the answer lies in available, well-publicized research that analyzes the extent of consumer needs in today's complex financial environment.

Specific analysis of your customer base and other consumers in the geographical territory covered by your bank can provide useful direction.

Here again, specialty firms focus on helping banks and third-party marketers conduct the market research that is required to make an informed decision about the desirability of elevating the complexity and sophistication of the services they offer.

Such research includes analysis of demographic and psychographic data. This can provide signals about appropriate marketing strategies, products and services to be offered, the installation of investment centers in branches, and other strategic concerns.

These signals help a bank or third-party firm develop optimally effective investment services programs.

Beginning with the cash management account of the '70s, national and regional brokerage firms, money managers, financial planners, and even insurance agents have successfully encroached on banks' traditional territory, capturing unprecedented amounts of consumer assets.

One reason the emerging influence of specialty firms is so important is that their very. existence, creativity, and professionalism allow banking institutions to fight back, reverse such encroachment, and win control of their fair share of consumer cash and other paper assets.

This is true whether a bank avails itself of specialty firms' services directly or through a third party.

So if your bank seems ill equipped to cut the mustard for customers in today's financial climate, look to the emerging specialty firms.

They have many of the answers and they are a resource with untapped capacity.

Change, Not Decline

There have been a number of recent articles about the declining role of banks in America's financial future. We don't buy the premise.

Banks will undoubtedly undergo a significant structural and operational metamorphosis as they adjust to and sometimes lead competitive forces.

But the notion that their role and significance to this nation is irrevocably in decline evokes the old euphemism road apples."

No significant player in the financial sector of our economy is going to be immune to competition, innovation, or the profound change we can expect of "the information age."

No sector has a monopoly on invention, and no intermediary has a crystal ball to ensure that the particular territory it now occupies will be impervious to the ingenuity of others.

Banks will hold their own. And in their particular way, specialty firms will make their proportionate contribution.

John Naisbitt's "Megatrends" talks of large and important ideas springing from small and unlikely places.

The bank brokerage market as we know it was born, cultivated. and nurtured in places like Sarasota, Fla., and Seattle, not New York or Los Angeles.

Growing Impact

Small firms and individuals in unlikely places will continue to help some of the largest banking institutions in the country, reinvigorate themselves.

While not yet widely known, the impact that specialty firms are having on the competitiveness of both the banking and third-part industries is increasing every jay.

If you think their shoes might fit you, don't hesitate to try them on.

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