Training companies are jumping on the investment-product bandwagon at banks.

A cottage industry is springing up to help banks license salespeople, learn more about investment offerings, and target customers.

Training companies range from operations like Omega Performance, San Francisco, with scores of employees, to one-person or two-person shops, like Sales Acceleration Systems, Beaverdam, Va. And some big mutual fund companies, such as Van Kampen Merritt, have set up separate units to offer banks training for a fee.

Payback Hard to Evaluate

Bankers says these programs can indeed be helpful -- but the financial return is hard to pinpoint.

James McCoy, vice president at Signet Financial Services, Richmond, Va., lauds training Omega supplied to a couple of hundred platform people.

The program, which costs about $475 a person, has helped Signet direct more qualified leads to sales representatives, Mr. McCoy said. But exactly how much new business the training has yielded is "real hard to track" because of other factors that may affect sales, he said.

Some firms that provide comprehensive sales support to banks, including training, scoff at the idea of programs that provide only training.

Niche Training

"Our client banks find it's really not necessary to go to those sources, because their needs are met by us," said Robert Burke, director of education at Invest Financial Corp., Tampa.

But suppliers of stand-alone training programs maintain that their offerings are necessary in an increasingly competitive market. And each company points to a particular niche it serves.

"This is another level," said R. Scott West, director of financial institutions at Van Kampen Merritt, which modeled its program after Xerox's training methods. "We tap into resources that banks aren't going to get anywhere else."

Mr. West said the Xerox strategy, which concentrates on identifying customers needs as a way of selling more products and those that are most appropriate, is unique to banks.

While Van Kampen is a known name, industry observers warn that the lure of potentially easy money will surely entice some fly-by-night operations to enter the fray.

Banks may get burned. But some experts -- among them Lou Harvey, president of Dalbar Financial Services, a financial consultant in Boston -- are confident that phony firms can't last long.

"If people are not well trained, it becomes obvious pretty quickly," Harvey said.

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