Those words became a lament last week at the 1995 Bank Securities Association conference in Boston. The two-day meeting at the Boston Marriott Copley Place drew an impressive 325 attendees. But most of the conference goers were not bankers, but vendors trying to sell products and services through banks. A list of those attending revealed that no more than one in six was affiliated with banks. "We like to have half and half - vendors and bankers," said James Shelton, the trade group's executive director. "But there was so much vendor demand, and we hate to turn them away." Several blamed the lopsided attendance list on location. Boston, after all, has become the heart of the nation's mutual fund industry. Even Robert Kurucza, the bank group's general counsel, conceded that many bankers might have stayed away knowing that the event would be overrun with fund vendors. One executive with a western regional bank agreed. "They could have picked a more neutral site, but instead they led us right into the lion's den." Still, it was the representatives of the fund firms that seemed to have the most to complain about. Donald Roberson, senior vice president and director of marketing and sales with Funds Distributor, Boston, said very few bankers had stopped by the company's booth and that attendance at the company's cocktail reception Thursday night was small. He blamed the poor turnout on a lack of promotion by the association's leadership. "They should be able to drum up more people to come out to these events," Mr. Roberson said. Sitting alone in his exhibit partition, another mutual fund sales representative groused, "This is a weak conference." He added later that evening: "We spend a lot of time and money at these events - and for what? - to listen to a few success stories from banks that are already using our products." Even bankers seemed a bit dismayed that they were outnumbered by vendors. James R. Eads, president of Signet Financial Services, Richmond, Va., said he would have liked to have seen the association form smaller "roundtable" meetings where bankers could sit and discuss issues without vendors attending. "We really don't compete with other banks - it would have been nice to sit across from someone and just talk about the challenges in this business," Mr. Eads said. But finding a large enough number of bankers to attend such an event would have been difficult. Before starting a slide presentation on his bank's efforts to boost mutual fund sales, Marco Hanig, managing director of First Chicago's mutual fund complex, asked the dozens of people seated in the audience to raise their hands if they were bankers. Five hands went up. "Well, the rest of you might want to leave," Mr. Hanig said. "This is for bankers." But despite the low turnout of bankers, "You have to come out to these events," said Richard A. Davies, the former First Chicago brokerage chief who was recently appointed head of Alliance Capital Management's bank mutual fund sales. "It's worth it just to have contact with a few of these bankers that you would have otherwise had to travel to see." Peter J. Succoso, a director of the Bank Securities Association and a senior vice president for Wilmington Trust Co. in Delaware, deemed the conference a success. "You are always going to have vendors complain that there are not enough constituents here," Mr. Succoso said. "But we have an open membership here that's a mix of vendors and bankers, and I think most of them came here and learned something and were pleased by the lineup we had." -Scott Hensley and Howard Kapiloff contributed to this report.
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