HOLLYWOOD, Fla.  -- What's the best way for a bank program to increase business?  Whether a program manager believes in hiring new advisors or coaching the current staff to greater heights, there's one piece of good news. On either side of that fence, there are experts here at the annual BISA conference who would agree.

Kehrer Bielan Research & Consulting conducted a new study for one of the conference sessions that concluded less than 7% of bank customers have an investment relationship with the bank. When narrowing the focus to just mass-affluent customers, the percentage is 20%--a definite improvement but still not as high as most banks would prefer.

There has been much discussion and research in recent years that suggests an optimal threshold of deposits per advisor at a bank in order to maximize total program revenue. And usually, those ratios indicate that banks are understaffed, sometimes vastly so, in order to generate the most investment revenue possible.

Indeed, a panel of banks and broker-dealers were on hand to discuss their staffing plans for the year.  For instance, U.S. Bank has about 500 advisors now, and plans to be at about 530 at the end of the year, says Senior Vice President Dorothy Mitchel.  Bank of the West has about 125 advisors now and plans to add about 20 this year, says Dale Niemi, president and CEO of BancWest Investment Services, the bank's retail brokerage arm. Over the next four years, he plans to have more than 200 advisors. Eric Hosie, market manager at M&T Bank says his shop has about 200 to 210 advisors, and that will grow to the 240 to 250 range over the next year. Frank Drago, executive vice president of Citizens Bank, says he has about 300 advisors and plans to increase to 350 this year. And finally, Catherine Bonneau, president and CEO of Cetera Financial Institutions, says her plans at the broker-dealer call for a net increase of 110 new advisors.


In another session, consultant Anthony Cole refuted the notion that banks need to hire new advisors to see growth. Instead, he says, there is much room for improvement among the current crop of advisors. In fact, his pitch is that banks can increase their investment revenue by 34% just by coaching their advisors in new ways with a heavy emphasis on accountability.

He laid out a plan that included a laser like focus on segmenting and focusing all energy on the best clients. Likewise, for program managers, he was a big believer on focusing on the top performers instead of spending energy on advisors who are failing or even those who are in the middle of the bell curve (those who feel that doing "just enough is good enough," he says.)

The important part of his strategy is "mapping the process," he says.  Instead of just telling an advisor to make more calls, or get more introductions, he says program managers should go through the advisor's book of business and show them the data of how much their practice can be worth if they  increase their calls by 10%, or increase the ratio of prospects who become clients and so on.

One important part of the accountability is for the manager to officially get the advisor's "permission" to be coached if numbers come up short, he says. Moreover, it's necessary to address any such problems as soon as they arise instead of waiting for an annual performance review.

Simply hoping for better results without putting a new process in place will not parlay into any gains. "Your department is perfectly designed to get the results you've been getting," he says.

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