The new giants of financial services have a lot of old inertia to overcome if they are to become the one-stop retail supermarkets that they want to be.
In general, consumers have not voted with their assets in favor of the one-stop financial concept. Recent surveys-including one done since the category-blurring Citicorp-Travelers Group merger announcement in early April-indicate a persistent skepticism about putting most eggs in a single company's baskets.
The fuller-service idea seems to go over well in principle, but behavior does not follow.
In nationwide surveys by Synergistics Research Corp. and PSI Global, 50% to 60% reacted at least somewhat positively to one-stop shopping.
In the Synergistics survey, in late April, 15% said they already do it, but another 38% stated it was "not an improvement."
Of respondents to a PSI Global survey in March, 61% said they would probably consolidate their financial relationships into one-if they "could see an economic benefit."
"Consumers really want to see what's in it for them and whether it's something that's good for them," said Anne Morgan Moore, president of Synergistics in Atlanta. "Banks are going to have to really sell the benefits of one-stop shopping."
"Banks want consumers to recognize that their risks are better managed by one provider," said Edward E. Furash, chairman of Furash & Co., Washington. "Consumers haven't moved in that direction yet."
Even affluent customers, who are more disposed than the average person toward consolidating their holdings, do not generally go all the way to one service provider. And when they get close, it tends not to be with a commercial bank.
"The full-service brokerage is exceptionally good at consolidating," said Merl W. Baker, director of syndicated research at Spectrem Group, a PSI Global affiliate. "They get a bigger share of wallet than any type of financial institution."
In a "millionaires" study released this year by the Advisory Board Co. of Washington, most of the 235 people contacted who had investable assets exceeding $500,000 chose full-service brokers as their principal financial providers; banks were the choice of fewer than 15%.
The brokerage connection could be one of the biggest benefits to Citicorp from the pending Travelers Group deal. The banking company could get access to broad, multifaceted relationships with upscale brokerage clients that it might find hard to duplicate on its own.
The challenge after that would be to bring other customers into the multiservice fold, perhaps using the Salomon Smith Barney unit to accomplish what Sears, Roebuck and Co. failed to do in the 1980s with Dean Witter Reynolds. Others are surely aiming to crack that same code as they plot long-term merger and marketing strategies.
Has the climate turned more favorable since the earlier wave of financial conglomeration? As Ms. Moore of Synergistics asked, "Is bigger better, or just bigger?
She said the answer is "bigger is O.K., but not necessarily better."
The American Banker national consumer surveys, done in recent years with the Gallup Organization, indicate that, if anything, people are becoming less loyal, their business less concentrated.
There has been some drift away from banks-49% of financial consumers considered a commercial bank their principal institution in 1996 and 1997, a share that had never before been below 50%. At the same time, people were scattering their funds among multiple depository institutions, securities and insurance brokers, and mutual funds more than ever.
PSI Global, based in Tampa, said most consumers maintain multiple accounts: at an average of 1.9 financial institutions for deposit accounts, 2.0 for investment products, 1.7 for loans, and 3.0 for credit cards.
PSI research director Leslie Martin said consumers still exhibit a strong drive to "compartmentalize." And the low prices charged by specialized, single-product providers deter consolidation.
"Consumers don't see themselves as having or wanting a relationship with a bank," Ms. Martin said. "To be successful with cross-selling, a bank has to offer genuine economic value combined with convenience."
In the 1,011-consumer Synergistics poll in April, 32% considered pricing to be better at large banks, 43% at small banks. Of the respondents who disliked the one-stop-shopping idea, 60% cited price competition from other sources as the reason.
"You wouldn't expect anyone to buy everything for their house from Sears," wrote one anonymous respondent to the PSI survey. "Banks would just have to be competitive, and they're not."
The cross-industry convergence that many bankers and others view as inevitable does not much excite the public.
Of the Synergistics respondents, 56% said it would not be beneficial for their bank to merge with a brokerage firm; 51% said it would not be beneficial for their bank to merge with an insurance company.
Fewer than 10% of respondents said such pairings would be "very beneficial."
There were differences among age groups, however: 56% between 18 and 24 said financial supermarkets would be a moderate or great improvement. Only 30% of those 50 to 64 years old had the same view.
"The older customers already have established relationships," said Ms. Moore. "It's the first-time buyers who are the opportunities. You have to get them while they're young and grow the relationship."
The consolidation tendency rises with wealth, but there are limits even to this.
In a survey last year of 2,200 households with annual incomes above $100,000 or net worths exceeding $500,000, Spectrem said on average 60% of their investments were with one company and 80% with two.
Fifty-two percent of the investors said they preferred to work with one institution.
The pattern was particularly diversified in an Institute for Private Investors survey of still wealthier people, said director Robert A. Rowan.
Members of the New York-based educational group each have more than $50 million. Last year the average member employed five managers for equity and fixed-income investments and six for nontraditional investments such as hedge, private equity, and futures funds.
The more mainstream affluent may be drawn to the increasingly popular packaged services, including mutual fund wrap or money management accounts, which tend to lure assets to one place.
These investors may also be combining accounts in financial institutions that have merged or just be taking steps to simplify their finances.
"The concentration in a few institutions doesn't surprise me," said Doris P. Meister, executive vice president and managing director of the private-clients group at Fleet Financial Group Inc.
Many people get overwhelmed as their investments become scattered, Ms. Meister said. "People start to say, 'Enough!' They're starting to pare it back."
Other private-client managers have noted that cross-selling is resulting in their managing more of clients' investments.
Since assigning brokers to call on private clients three years ago, KeyCorp has witnessed a tenfold increase in the percentage of affluent customers using its full-service brokerage, said Daniel E. Klimas, executive vice president.
The bull market has led freshly minted millionaires to brokerages that offer derivatives, exchange funds, and other ways of diversifying assets, said Michael J. Campbell, managing director of the investment services group of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, New York.
"That's what drives them to full-service brokerages," Mr. Campbell said. "Those products are generally housed in securities firms, not in banks."