Some bank brokerages are entering cyberspace reluctantly, or not at all.
An informal survey of the 100 largest banking companies in the United States has found a few that, unlike their peers, are not in a hurry to offer on-line brokerage.
"I'm not smart enough to figure out how to make money from it, and I haven't seen our customers clamoring for it," said Ed Hipp, president of the brokerage subsidiary at Centura Banks Inc. in Rocky Mount, N.C.
Though Centura Securities Inc. has a discount division, which offers trading over the phone, transactions done through the unit account for only 2% of its $13 million to $14 million of annual revenues.
The focus of the brokerage, Mr. Hipp said, is to "deepen Centura's relationship with existing bank customers." And those customers want advice, he said.
Still, sometime in the first quarter Centura will let its employees trade on-line. If all goes well, Mr. Hipp said, the banking company will probably introduce the service to its brokerage clients three to six months later.
Few banking companies make money from on-line trading, said Ellen McKay, a principal of Optima Group, a consulting firm in Fairfield, Conn. Bank brokerages do not generate enough volume, she said. And since banks handle traditional administrative functions, on-line trading just adds "another layer of infrastructure."
Then again, making money with on-line trading is not the point for banks. The primary goal is "preventing defection," said Dan Latimore, a director at the consulting firm Mainspring in Cambridge, Mass.
However, since it is hard to quantify how much customer migration is prevented, a banking company might decide not to spend the $1 million or more it costs to set up on-line trading, Mr. Latimore said.
Or if 5% or fewer of its customers are interested in on-line trading, "it may not make sense," he added.
On the other hand, he said, "a grocery store can't not offer milk."
That seems to be the thinking behind plans by New Orleans-based Hibernia Corp. for an on-line service, which is scheduled to be rolled out shortly. Merritt Talbot, president of the unit, said that though he is enthusiastic about Internet trading, the unit will remain focused on its full-service operation.
"We want to give our customers the same service as everywhere else," he said. "I'm not sure if a lot will use it, and I don't think we're going to make money this way."
"I think everyone is doing it because everyone is doing it," said Stephen P. Amarante, president and chief executive officer of the third-party marketer Infinex Financial Group of Hartford, Conn.
Infinex is rolling out a service that will let bank customers look at their portfolios on-line but will not offer Web trades.
Internet brokers "all have the same thing," he said. "I believe people are still willing to pay money for that [personal] relationship."