Tracking investment sales is still a paper-packed chore for many bank brokerages, but technological advances have begun to ease the burden.
Computer software developed by banks and clearing firms, among other entities, has made identifying a best-selling product or a top-producing broker as easy as tapping a key.
Now a new generation of computing tools is promising to deliver information about a brokerage's profitability by taking production data and breaking it down into any number of categories.
"Talk to anyone that has a sizable business, and being able to get all the revenue associated with investment sales is a key priority for them," said Alton C. Jones, managing director of Pershing, a Jersey City-based investment clearing firm.
Indeed, Pershing is testing its new ManagerView tracking software at 13 brokerages nationwide. The program allows sales managers to generate reports based on a geographic area, bank branch, investment product, sales rep, or customer, and then list the revenue associated with each category.
The product runs on Windows-based personal computers, and the data are doled out monthly to the brokerage on CD-ROM for a fee of $500 to $1,000 a year, Mr. Jones said.
Tracking tools like Pershing's have given banks the ability to catch sales trends and try new strategies to help boost their investment sales.
"Our sales revenue has grown 50% in the past two years, and that's in part due to the tracking system we developed in-house," said Penny Zega, president of Seafirst Securities, Seattle.
Ms. Zega, who oversees 31 investment representatives at Seafirst Bank's brokerage unit, has all of her salespeople tied into a central computer that lists what products have been sold, and by whom, on a daily basis.
"Trend analysis is crucial to keeping production up, and it has to be done every day," Ms. Zega said. "If you wait until the end of the week, it might not be enough time to take corrective action."
Indeed, tracking systems can alert a brokerage chief if a sales representative is selling too much of a particular investment. And it can sometimes spot a broker who hasn't done an adequate job of shepherding an investor through rough markets.
"If a customer pulls out of a growth fund after only three years, then you can step back and examine whether the rep properly informed them that it's a long-term investment," Ms. Zega said.
Joel Calvo, president of PNC Brokerage Corp., armed all of his brokers with laptop computers earlier this year and has automated almost every step of the sales process.
He estimates that his brokers save 20 to 40 minutes because they enter investment orders directly into their computers instead of manually at day's end. "It's time better spent selling," he added.
PNC has also invested in a more powerful main computer that right now downloads sales information from its clearing firm, BHC Securities, and is able to generate compliance reports, as well as daily sales reports.
The Pittsburgh-based brokerage subsidiary plans to integrate the new system with its record keeping archives, and allow its brokers to pull up their book of business and, in the future, also pull up a customer's documents or other transaction materials without having to retrieve a paper copy.
Still, for most banks the familiar blotter - a standard sheet of paper where brokers record their investment sales - is still a way of life.
Computerized tracking systems can be costly to implement, running anywhere from a few thousand dollars for a PC-driven system used by a few brokers, to hundreds of thousands of dollars for a large sales force utilizing a mainframe computer.
First Interstate Investment Services doesn't have all of its brokers on computers yet.
The Phoenix-based brokerage subsidiary of First Interstate Bancorp, Los Angeles, faxes daily sales blotters to Pershing, its securities clearing firm, and receives a weekly report from the firm.
Sandy Cavanaugh, senior vice president and program manager for First Interstate Investment Services, said the unit is in the midst of upgrading its computer systems so they are able to generate revenue reports on a daily basis.
On her wish list of information: "to see all the data by branch, as well as by investment rep, so that we know if a part of a cluster is working or not."