Bank brokers, long typecast as the Rodney Dangerfields of the investment business, are suddenly getting some respect.

Once viewed as little more than order takers, bank brokers have begun to accumulate solid track records in investment sales. The best of the lot, like top-producing brokers anywhere, are finding themselves in demand.

What's more, brokerage firms have learned that money talks when it comes to wooing employees from banks, which are notoriously stingy with compensation.

And with the bank merger boom under way, brokerages see a golden opportunity to snare jittery brokers from banks considered ripe for takeover.

The result is that growing numbers of brokers who started their careers at banks are jumping to mainstream brokerage firms. Consider these developments:

*Edward D. Jones & Co., one of the largest U.S. brokerage firms, has hired 30% of its new employees from banks this year, up from 7% in 1994. "We have bank brokers in every training class, every month," said Connie Silverstein, a principal with the St. Louis firm.

*Creative Marketing Systems, a recruiting and consulting firm in Homewood, Ill., has placed 25 high-producing bank brokers in new jobs in 1995, up from 15 last year. "We are definitely seeing brokers going from banks to regional brokerage firms and wirehouses," said Todd McMeen, the firm's managing director.

*David A. Noyes & Co., a small brokerage in Chicago, has grabbed four brokers from banks in the last year. The firm, which employs 60 brokers, says bank veterans are unusually adept at working with first-time investors and tend to have clean compliance records.

While the trend is still in its infancy, bank brokerage executives are beginning to take notice. Some, like BankAmerica Corp.'s Robert Flowers, are quick to acknowledge that they could lose top people if they don't retool compensation packages.

Though the San Francisco banking company has not seen an outflow of brokerage talent, it plans to revamp its brokerage compensation early next year, said Mr. Flowers, president of BA Investment Services. "Our payout right now is not competitive."

Indeed, few bank-affiliated brokerages can compete with the regional and national firms. The average bank investment representative earned $67,000 last year - $50,000 less than counterparts at nonbank brokerages, according to a study by Kenneth Kehrer Associates, Princeton, N.J.

Such gaping pay discrepancies gnaw away at bank brokerage employees.

Barbara Gawdzik made a $25,000 salary plus a $60,000 commission last year at MidAmerica Federal Bank, Cicero, Ill., where she was a top producer, grossing $300,000 in commissions. "New brokers could come in and match that even though you'd been there much longer," she groused.

She jumped to David A. Noyes last year, when a headhunter got hold of her name. Her pay, based entirely on commissions, has jumped to $112,000, even though her revenue volume is down a tad.

Like many bank-based brokers, Ms. Gawdzik was frustrated by a commission cap imposed by the bank, which put her income potential substantially below what it would be at a nonbank brokerage.

Many banks cap commissions because they don't want brokers earning more than lending officers or bank executives.

"When a broker at a bank starts to become successful, he starts receiving animosity from people in other parts of the bank," said Jerry Cole, chief financial officer at David A. Noyes.

The ability to outbid banks on pay isn't the only reason brokerage firms are looking to banks. There is a growing sense that bank brokers have finally proven their mettle in generating sales.

"Nobody would talk to them before," said Paul Werlin, president of Human Capital Resources, a St. Petersburg, Fla., firm that specializes in recruiting brokers. But now, "there's a belief that bank brokers will build a strong relationship with clients," he said. He said bank brokers have a reputation for taking a long-term view of a client's portfolio, an approach that's in sync with brokerages' desire to manage as much of a client's assets as possible.

Advertising in trade publications is one way brokerage firms are reaching out to bank-based brokers.

Edward D. Jones & Co., for instance, has had an advertising campaign tailored to bank-based brokers for more than a year.

Featured in one of the ads is John Fleck, who was a broker at Carteret Savings Bank in New Jersey before its collapse in 1992. The ad plays heavily on bank employees' fears about losing their jobs through bank mergers.

"So many bank brokers are uncertain about their future, with consolidation - that's why there are more brokers from banks coming over to Edward Jones," Mr. Fleck said in a telephone interview.

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