I think that it goes without saying U.S. banks need to do more to attract and retrain the mass affluent.

According to a study called “”The State of the Banks’ Mass-Affluent Offerings: One Size Fits Some,” by Sophie Schmitt of Aite Group, domestic banks need to do two things to serve the mass affluent audience they covet: They need to serve the mass affluent through multiple channels (in person, by phone, and online); and banks need to spend more time figuring out who the mass affluent are beyond just people with a certain level of investable assets.

The report makes very enlightening reading for anyone interested in the present and future of bank brokerage. I know banks are slow to change and have massive legacy and compliance issues that make innovation hard, but when you think about it, everyone is on the internet for everything. People from all income levels shop, research and buy in cyberspace, and for the next generation, the Web is as natural as tying your shoes.

Bank of America’s Merrill Edge is the closest to actually doing this, Schmitt said, because it delivers not just advice but retail banking services through various channels, including branch, phone and Internet.

While half of U.S. banks are aware of this opportunity and are busy enhancing their online capabilities, the other half believe they distinguish themselves from the Charles Schwabs of the world with in-person advice.

Canadian banks, which have been doing “the Merrill Edge thing” for 10 years now, don’t think the two things are mutually exclusive.

The Canadian banks, according to Schmitt, view remote and self-directed services as complimentary to in-person full-service alternatives. These banks use licensed sales teams to screen mass affluent customers and refer them to financial planners for which they are well-compensated. These banks also have almost double the cross-over investment business of their U.S. counterparts.

“While they rely heavily on face-to-face interactions for their mass affluent strategy, leaders at these banks recognize that these channels may not be dominant in the future,” Schmitt wrote.

So one bank for example has “ported its financial planning processes to direct channels where the licensed sales force does their winnowing and serving. People who work with financial planners at the bank may also have a self-directed account there.

With many bank brokerage programs struggling to get their wares in front of the banks’ retail customers, the leap into servicing them through multiple channels might seem impossible. But until banks become known for their investment acumen among the mass affluent, thinking about integrating along multiple channels is a good way to think about integrating different services at the bank. Mass affluent clients don’t necessarily want to use the bank for just for checking but they may not know they can use it for other things. One of the best ways to tell them is through the branches, their email and over the phone and by marketing to them based on services they say they need.

For example, Schmitt said, HSBC had a banking program that was only used by a small percentage of their clients, but when they did some research they discovered many more clients had a use for it if they knew it existed. Hence they started marketing this service. It reminds me of Mike Mortensen saying that 60% of PNC banking customers say they would use investment services, but they aren’t necessarily aware the bank offers them.

Schmitt spells out some practical ways to achieve a wider command of the mass affluent. First, banks need to identify a leader who will “own the segment.” This will allow that person “to coordinate offer development across all lines of business.”

Second, banks need to broaden their offerings, improving self-directed investing costs for the client and offering a more holistic and less investment-only approach to finances.

Third, banks need to spend more time understanding the mass affluent clients so they can find out what they want instead of what they use of what they already know about and then market to them more appropriately.

Fourth, banks need to offer a quality in-person experience because increasingly when someone comes to a branch to do business it will be because they can’t get something done on their own.

Finally banks have to start segmenting the mass affluent on other qualities than merely their level of investable assets and measure their success in customer satisfaction instead of just wallet share.

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