CHICAGO - Trust and private bankers from across the country convened in Chicago to consider new sales methods for grappling with the growing threat of nonbank competition.

"There are new tricks for this industry," said Erin E. McInerney, senior vice president of Harris Trust and Savings Bank.

Harris began a reorganization two years ago in which it integrated trust and private banking. It's a move Ms. McInerney says has helped Harris to achieve a 26% rise in discretionary assets under management from 1993 to 1994.

The stated focus of the two-day conference, titled "Competing for Market Share," was increasing profitability, and an often addressed problem was the slowness of banks to change their sales tactics.

The 30-odd bankers who attended the meeting, sponsored by ICM Conferences Inc. and David Ross Palmer Consultants Inc., came from banking behemoths like Banc One Trust Group as well as community banks like Bank of Louisville and Trust Co.

The encroachment of nonbank firms into the trust and private banking businesses is causing many banks to reassess how they retain and take on new clients in the face of growing competition.

Edward M. Foley Jr., a vice president at the Bank of New York's trust and investment department says there is a perception that the nonbank competitors are better investment managers.

Mr. Foley finds that the success of nonbanks is lighting a fire under banks.

"It's an opportunity for us. It's a wake-up call, because we actually have the advantage," Mr. Foley said.

A major theme at the conference was the need to spend more money on marketing efforts to bring in new clients.

"The banks have to take this seriously," said Mr. Foley. "The banks will not bring resources to bear, and unfortunately, Fidelity and Merrill Lynch will. The threat is real, I don't think it's just a perception."

To foster sales, Mr. Foley stressed the need for banks to be more visible in communities and pitch themselves as both experienced trust officers and expert investment managers.

"The real point is selling. We don't have real salespeople," Mr. Foley, a former broker, added.

The competition came to the conference too, not to enjoy the Indian summer weather in Illinois but to brag about their prowess in the bankers' business.

The Raymond James Trust Co. is a model of an upstart nonbank grabbing former bank clients. The broker-affiliated trust company has grown to $300 million under administration since it began three and a half years ago.

"We're certainly willing to look at cast-off business you all are willing to sell us," Curtis L. Lyman, president of Raymond James Trust, told the bankers.

Mr. Lyman says the St. Petersburg, Fla., company is able to lure clients because banks' toll-free lines offer nothing more than a "trust officer du jour."

He says the consolidation of the industry could kill off banks' trust business.

"I can tell you small trust companies that have a strong point of delivery are knocking at your door," Mr. Lyman warned.

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