Bankers often fret that Charles Schwab & Co., the huge discount brokerage, is eating their lunch. Earlier this week, the American Bankers Association invited one of the company's top executives to do just that.
David S. Pottruck, Schwab's chief operating officer, was the luncheon speaker at the ABA's annual trust and private banking conference, which ended here Wednesday.
After feasting on pasta, Mr. Pottruck gave several hundred bankers the skinny on the evolution of his cutting-edge brokerage firm.
He also told a tale that couldn't have pleased his audience one whit.
To prepare for his speech, Mr. Pottruck said, he did a little research. He telephoned 10 of the most prominent private banks in the country and announced himself - using his real name and title - as a potential client.
He was initially impressed at the gusto exuded by the private bankers who pursued him as a client. But then he saw their follow-up letters.
"I got letters from all 10, but four spelled my name wrong. One was addressed to Mr. Potluck," he said.
The three-day conference drew 530 trust and private bankers, who heard plenty of gloomy assessments of their business.
Take the presentation of Mark Hurley, a Goldman, Sachs & Co. vice president.
Mr. Hurley told bankers the marketplace is flooded with competing investment products at a time when many banks are expanding proprietary mutual fund families.
By his count, the investment management field is cluttered by 2,900 players, including banks, brokerages, and independent money managers.
Within five years, he predicted, "190 will cease to exist."
He said bankers have two survival options: become a large investment management company or a small specialist. Either way, he urged, private bankers should spend money now on sales or forget it.
Mr. Hurley's barrage of statistics was almost too much for many members of the audience to bear.
"That was depressing," one private banker said.
A trust banker added: "I'm thinking about going into landscaping."
Vendor displays at banking conferences rarely glitter. So it was no surprise many conferencegoers were drawn to a booth built by Christie's, the famed London-based estate appraiser and auction house.
Sitting in a glass display case was a sampling of jewels from the collection of the late Eva Gabor, of "Green Acres" TV fame.
A security guard hired to watch the collection stood nearby. But that didn't stop one banker from insisting that she be allowed to try on one of the late actress' rings. Not wanting to turn off a potential client, the Christie's folks behind the counter complied.
Christie's, which works closely with bank trust departments, is currently selling Ms. Gabor's possessions, including her multimillion- dollar Southern California home.
Wells Fargo & Co. is one of the rare banks reputed to have the marketing savvy of a consumer products company.
So it seemed fitting that an executive from the San Francisco-based banking company - Andy Anderson, a vice president in its on-line financial services division - was chosen by the ABA to speak about building brand awareness.
Mr. Anderson, who formerly worked in Wells Fargo's brand management division, told the bankers they need to develop an image that embraces an institution's core values.
"Products do something, while a brand stands for something," he said. Wells Fargo, for example, stresses "courtesy" as a core value it wants to convey to customers.
While Mr. Anderson's talk at times sounded like a lecture to first-year MBA students, he pointed out that many experienced bankers sometimes overlook the obvious.
One piece of Mr. Anderson's advice: "Prospective clients should know at a glance who the marketing material is from."