overalls beckoned passers-by to a nearby Marine Midland Bank branch. Those who took the bait found themselves in a newly opened financial planning center, complete with a professional planner, a securities trading desk, and touch-screen computers with information about mutual funds and financing of college educations. These customers were exhibiting a growing hunger for financial advice. And Marine Midland was trying to satisfy their craving. As in past years, financial planning was the "nontraditional service" that drew the highest level of interest from bank customers participating in the annual American Banker consumer survey. One out of three customers said they would be interested in advisory services if offered by their principal commercial banking institutions. That was greater than the response to mutual funds (24%), annuities (22%), or stock brokerage services (22%). Only 11% of the total survey sample of 1,027 household heads said they had ever obtained financial planning from a bank, well below the 18% who had gotten stock or bond mutual funds. The survey found that U.S. consumers had consulted an average of four different sources for financial information or advice in the past year, and banks were down on the list. Three-quarters of the respondents had secured advice or information from professional sources - those other than people they know or mass media - with insurance agents, employers, and accountants all outpolling commercial bank representatives. The percentage of respondents visiting each category of financial adviser ranged from 25% for bankers to 31% for insurers. The good news for bankers was that they were the most-relied-upon information source for 7% of the respondents. By this measure, banks were ahead of all sources except newspapers and magazines (12%). Accountants, stockbrokers, and financial planners weighed in at 6% each. The difference between 7% and 6% - or, for that matter, between the bankers' 7% and the 5% registered by employers and credit union representatives - is not statistically significant. But banks, given their level of consumer trust and what marketers call "share of mind," are in a position to become the financial advisers of choice. Just over half those in the survey said banks' advice is equal to or better than others', 22% said it is the same, and 16% admitted they didn't know. "In many cases all (people) they know is their banks," said Robert A. Sussman, a financial counselor serving five Marine Midland branches in Westchester County, N.Y. "They have no investment experience at all, and they feel they'll be taken care of." One visitor at Marine Midland's new planning center was Ghislaine Jeansimon, 33, who works nearby. She said she plans to buy her first mutual fund shares this year and wants to consult with a planner because "financial decisions are confusing." She wanted professional help after having already queried family and friends - a source cited by 40% in the American Banker survey. Meanwhile, 57% of the respondents had received financial information from print and electronic media over the past year. The number of people who relied most on a mass-media source, 15%, was equal to those who relied most on friends or relatives, while 38% named a banker, a planner, or other professional adviser. Myron Kandel, financial editor and commentator on Cable News Network, conceded that his program and other popular media sources can confuse would-be investors as much as reassure them. His own sister, he said, once expressed frustration with the often contradictory opinions proffered by the Moneyline program's steady parade of Wall Street experts. Which led her to ask Mr. Kandel: "Why don't you just have on the one who's right?"

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.