investment-products customer will smooth over a spate of bad proprietary- fund returns. But a new study by Andersen Consulting suggests that customers are more interested in results than in such intangibles as personal service. On a 100-point scoring scale, respondents valued return on investments (76.4) much more highly than having a good relationship with a bank (60.9.) or the quality of financial advice (60.6). Survey respondents also valued banks that speedily redeem fund shares and solve customer problems quickly. The study, "The Myths and Realities of Retail Banking," also found that the consumer emphasis on results over relationships applied to other areas of banking, including mortgage services, consumer loans, and credit cards. "We have been sharing the results with a number of key clients, and the reaction has ranged from impressed to annoyed," said Michael B. Elliott, an Andersen partner. Andersen conducted the consumer survey at the request of banks facing strong competition from nonbank sources. The responses were collected over four weeks in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Dallas, and Tampa. "We see a lot of clients working very hard but not getting a lot of traction," Mr. Elliott said. Andersen surmised that customers don't mind the anonymity of an "800" phone number if the service is adept and prompt. Respondents felt exactly the same way about other bank products and services. Mr. Elliott added that relationship banking was more important five to 10 years ago, but that Americans have changed their notion of value. Pointing to the national success of Charles Schwab & Co., the discount brokerage, Mr. Elliott argued that personalized service is not as important as convenience and cost. That sentiment was echoed by the 1,900 respondents. "They don't place a high value on traditional branch systems," Mr. Elliott said, so they're open to doing business with bank competitors. "Understanding what customers value will give banks some armor," he said. Toni C. Langlinais, an associate partner who conducted the study with Mr. Elliott, said a growing self-service orientation among investors was evident. The findings cut across market-segment lines. Regardless of sex, income, age, and education, bank customers said they wanted the same things. The Andersen study also found that the responses from different regions hardly varied. "I don't care if I'm from South Dakota and you're from New York City - we both want a good deal," Mr. Elliott said.
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