When the stock market took a nose dive last week, Siggi B. Wilzig dusted off one of his bank's old advertising campaigns.
The Trust Company of New Jersey campaign advises newspaper readers: "Don't gamble with your retirement-stocks go up and down."
That message would not have worked as long as the bull market raged. "The ad was in storage for two years so we took it out of mothballs," said Mr. Wilzig, the Jersey City bank's chairman and chief executive officer.
Like many other community bankers, Mr. Wilzig is hoping that a volatile stock market will generate a revival in old-fashioned insured deposits.
Anthony S. Abbate, president and CEO of Interchange Financial Services Corp., Saddle Brook, N.J., makes it sound almost like a battle cry.
"It's time to repatriate deposits," Mr. Abbate said. "It's not healthy for banks not to be able to increase core funding."
The issue of deposit growth is crucial for community banks, because they rely more on core deposits to fuel earnings than do larger banks, which have greater access to capital markets.
But while community banks need the funds necessary to lend out to customers, their deposit bases are not keeping up. An analysis of call report data by Sheshunoff Information Services shows deposits at banks with less than $3 billion of assets dropping from 85.56% of assets at the end of 1993 to 83.54% as of Sept. 30.
Bankers and industry observers alike say it's too soon to tell whether investors will start looking at safety instead of just yield, especially when most stocks remain in good shape. Some inflow into bank money market accounts and certificates of deposit is expected-but the volume remains a matter of debate.
"When the media portrays an end to the bull market as they're starting to do now, it would be logical to think some money will flow out of the market into banks," said Steve Didion, a bank analyst at Hoefer & Arnett in San Francisco. "When the perception becomes that the easy money is over, money starts to flow in the other direction."
"I don't think there's been enough change yet to do much," said B.A. Donelson, president and chief executive officer of First State Bank in Stratford, Tex. "We still see a lot of checks go to Edward D. Jones and Merrill Lynch."
B. Procter Caudill, president of Peoples Bank in Sandy Hook, Ky., said the bank's deposits have grown only 2% a year for the past five years, versus 4% gains during each of the previous five years.
Mr. Caudill said he's considered following the lead of big banks and selling mutual funds to attract the customer's eye.
"It's something we community bankers may be forced into," he said.
But others aren't willing to rush into offering mutual funds, and don't expect to lure away many people now investing in them.
"The market can have their money," said Michaux Nash Jr., chairman and CEO of $7 million-asset Dallas National Bank. "I want the other money."
For those that do want a piece, now is the time to consider deposit-rate hikes and advertising campaigns.
"We're talking about it with our advertising people," said Joseph Cassidy, senior vice president and treasurer of Peoples Savings Bank of Holyoke, in Massachusetts. 'I can't remember the last time we advertised deposits-it's kind of hard to advertise something for 2% interest."
Mr. Cassidy said the thrift has seen a slight deposit spike in the past two weeks, something that hasn't happened in months. The new deposits have included a few checks from brokerage firms.
"People are thinking twice and bringing the money back," he said.
Still, no one is quite willing to publicly root for the end of the bull market. Some, for example, have their own mutual fund businesses to worry about.
"Banks are playing both side of the fence," said Peter Crane, managing editor of IBC's Money Fund Report, a newsletter published by IBC Financial Data Inc, where. "They're prepared to take advantage of the situation either way."
Vernon W. Hill 2d, president and CEO of Commerce Bancorp, Cherry Hill, N.J., said his $3.3 billion-asset bank hasn't seen any panic on the brokerage side nor any windfall on the deposit side.
"For money to come back to banks will take a long, sustained decline," Mr. Hill said.