Banks trying to build their wealth management businesses are finally waking up from a “sleepyville environment” as the onslaught of digital advice providers and other rivals intensifies.

That was one of the key messages Daniel Darst, chief marketing officer for People’s United Bank, tried to bring home at a well-attended session at SourceMedia’s annual In|Vest conference in New York.

“The idea that a bank will be your first choice for an investment solution for your retirement planning has really been challenged for the last 30 years,” he said.

Non-bank rivals, he explained, view banks as lacking the data aggregation and planning tools needed to “put clients on a higher place where they can understand all the different opportunities and options.”

Banks, he said, “work from a very small quiver, a very small pallet.”

Despite their vulnerable position, banks nevertheless hold an important advantage. With $13.2 trillion in deposits, they have “great opportunities” if they’re savvy enough to exploit them properly, Darst said.

Crowd at SourceMedia's InVest 2018 conference
Crowd at SourceMedia's InVest 2018 conference Patrick McLain


Darst encouraged attendees to segment their customers and develop a strategy for reaching each of those segments, whether mass-affluent, high-net-worth or ultrahigh-net-worth.

If a bank is trying to target a 40-year-old professional woman, it should make sure it can reach her via her phone. “If you’re not on her phone, it’s not going to happen,” he said.

Darst advised banks not to focus on “pushing out” webinars or financial content, saying that’s not “how to get clients.”

Only a very small percentage of customers who sign up for webinars actually attend. But even then, the number of participants drops off dramatically after just 45 seconds, with only competitors listening in, according to Darst.

“It’s not about us getting to them. It’s about them getting to us,” he told attendees.

Banks should also target their marketing messages. “The message to the Gen X professional woman is a little different than the message to an older baby boomer who in in that upper middle income,” Darst said.