Stillwater National Bank in Oklahoma is planning a full-service investment sales program. But rather than seek help from a large investment marketing firm, it chose a small regional one.

The $750 million-asset bank hired Investment Professionals Inc., San Antonio, to recruit three or four brokers to sell mutual funds and annuities in the bank's three branches - in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and Stillwater.

Robert L. McCormick Jr., Stillwater's chief executive, said he chose a smaller firm - Investment Professionals has only 32 bank clients - because the bank would receive more personalized service.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that when a (marketing) firm is dealing with hundreds of banks, you're more likely to get lost in the shuffle," Mr. McCormick said.

Some experts say these smaller firms are attracting more attention from community banks that may prefer to deal with a local or regional company and don't want to pay extra for frills.

"The banks might feel like they can get to the top more quickly to get things done because the smaller firms have less layers of management to go through," said Richard A. Ayotte, president of American Brokerage Consultants, St. Petersburg, Fla.

Stillwater's Mr. McCormick said he has high hopes for the sales program because the bank is recruiting seasoned brokers, "not greenhorns," to sell to the bank's customers - mostly professionals and business owners.

As part of the arrangement, the bank will get a 70% cut of the gross commissions, from which the brokers' salaries will be drawn, he said. The brokers are expected to book between $25,000 and $50,000 in commissions a month, mostly from sales of mutual funds and annuities.

Scott A. Barnes, president of Investment Professionals and a former Prudential Bache broker, said his company has benefitted from the difficulty that large, third-party marketing firms have had offering community banks a high level of service.

"We only deal with smaller banks, and always have," Mr. Barnes said. "About 70% of my business now is taking over accounts from large third- party firms."

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