Seafirst Corp. is hiring more brokers and rolling out a program of investment seminars for selected customers in an effort to expand investment product sales in its home state of Washington.
Seattle-based Seafirst, a unit of BankAmerica Corp., San Francisco, will add eight brokers by the end of July, bringing the total number of full- service brokers to 50.
Seafirst's move signals a willingness to expand its investment products marketing effort beyond a traditional reliance on 450 branch employees, who have less investment training than full-time brokers. About 95% of Seafirst's investment products business comes through the branch employees.
As part of its new retail investment push, the bank has embarked on an ambitious program of investment seminars. The first seminars are being presented by its top executives, including executive vice presidents Thomas W. Porter and John Akin. Later seminars will be presented by the company's own brokers.
The first 30 seminars are on the topic of investing for retirement. Each two-hour-long presentation is held for 20 to 50 potential customers, in branch offices, country clubs, hotels, and other locations around the state.
Those invited include selected customers who are 30 or older and employees of companies that bank with Seafirst.
Seafirst's goal is for brokers to make appointments with half of the guests each meeting.
Seafirst has given investment seminars before, but this round is "a much more concerted effort," said Penny Zega, a senior vice president with the bank's brokerage. "Other seminars were at our customers' request."
Later, the program will include courses on how to double net worth and investing in a 401(k) plan.
Seafirst is training its brokers in presentation skills before sending them off to talk to customers.
"It was apparent that we couldn't have employees who were accustomed to one-on-one meetings standing up and giving these presentations without any preparation," said Mark Cleveland, general manager of Seafirst University, a unit that designs training courses for employees in all areas of the company.
"They might not have the polish the public would expect," he said.
The course instructs brokers in the art of the pitch. It shows them how to sit, stand, where to put their hands, how to use flip charts, and how to appear confident even when they are not.
The course is taught by a consultant Dez Young, president of Young Communications in Portland, Ore. Mr. Young spent 10 years hosting his own television talk shows.
"An ability to perform a message is a crucial part of a presentation," Mr. Young said. "Research shows that the vast majority of us are more impressed by performance than we are by content."
Ms. Zega said the company may continue to add sales employees.
"Clients have found it attractive to invest through the branch, whether through full-service brokers or branch employees," said Ms. Zega. "We'll continue to increase the number of investment people as long as there is demand."