Stung by criticism that it doesn't know how to draw bankers to its conferences, the Bank Securities Association earlier this year hired a new administrative director and entrusted him with the task of building interest.

Under Tom Cote's leadership, the trade organization has created a program committee of bankers charged with making these events more relevant to the needs of bank brokerage and proprietary mutual fund executives.

For the first time, the association designed a colorful brochure to market its annual convention - held last week at the Marriott Desert Springs golf resort here. (The American Banker received close to a dozen in the mail.)

Association officials even made a stronger effort than in past years to call up bankers to see if they would be attending.

To help draw more bankers to the event, the group also brought in an outside celebrity speaker for the first time - veteran political journalist Robert Novak.

Mr. Cote's efforts drew mixed reviews at the conference.

On one hand, bankers noted that the conference drew a higher ratio of bankers to vendors than at the group's previous get-together - in Boston last fall. In Palm Desert, there was about one banker for every four conferees trying to sell him or her something. In Boston, where the golfing and weather don't compare, the ratio was one to six.

Bankers even seemed to enjoy the ruminations of Mr. Novak, who has a more artful speaking style than many of the presidential aspirants he has been commenting on lately.

Novak had one of the best lines of the conference. In discussing the presidential candidacy of Patrick Buchanan, Novak pointed out that the "last time we had a President Buchanan, we also had a Civil War."

But not all bankers were as amused by the rest of the conference.

Some bankers complained that while the conference theme, "Interactive Investing: Cyberbanking and On-Line Brokerage," may be important for the future, it's not sufficiently relevant to their current operations.

By contrast, a topic with plenty of near-term relevance to bank brokerage chiefs - profitability - was almost ignored. Even though the association scheduled a roundtable discussion among brokerage executives entitled "Maintaining Broker/Dealer Profitability in a Time of Change," the panel didn't even even touch on the topic until a reporter in the audience pointed out that the session wasn't living up to its advance billing.

Several bankers felt that the number of bank conferees in attendance - about 80 - is shy of a respectable showing for the only trade group that directly represents the interests of bank brokerage and mutual fund executives.

"It's a shame because this should be the flagship conference for bank brokerages," complained one banker who asked not to be identified.

But the trade group did manage to draw "Cold Call Man." That's the nickname of Ron Gabrielsen, a retired Air Force recruiter who has refashioned himself as a sales and marketing coach to corporate America.

He urged the audience to see the importance of courting the customer enough to "exceed their expectations."

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.