The Bank Insurance & Securities Association’s annual conference began Sunday afternoon and the general tenor in the opening sessions was one of guarded optimism.

With some fairly significant caveats, there was hope that the bank channel will see better days ahead this year. First, though, it has to get through the current doldrums, which were described more than once as “choppy waters.”

Bob Bauer, chief global economist of Principal Global Investors, opened the conference with a presentation entitled “Do Equity Investors Still Need Prozac?” He said that the economy is facing some major headwinds and, as just one example, he noted that residential construction has been flat since the bleakest days of the recessions. He added a silver lining, though, when he said he thinks housing is near a bottom and that job growth will pick up soon. He added that recessions actually serve a purpose in an economy—namely, to clear out the deadwood—and the recent recession that the U.S went through has done its job. “Where is the deadwood now?” he said.

In fact, he said that there aren’t many internal signs of economic slowdown in the U.S. remaining. Rather, the biggest concerns are potential external shocks, such as the price of oil and turmoil in the Middle East or possible political failure in the EU.

Sanjiv Mirchandani, president of National Finance, a unit of Fidelity Investments, had some specific advice to advisors in his presentation, “Helping Bank Broker-Dealers Navigate Choppy Water.” Overall, he said there is likely to be a low-growth, low-rate environment for a while. And investors will continue to be risk averse.

One strategy for advisors that will become key is segmentation of their books of business, he said. There are some major segments currently underserved (he cited GenX, GenY and women as examples) that represent major opportunities for bank advisors, he said.

He predicted that clients will want to have more involvement with their investments in the future. He also predicted that advisors in the future will be more focused on relationships and less focused on products. And they will be more tech savvy, as opposed to feeling threatened whenever a client uses the Internet.

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