Seeking to boost revenue,
Bank of America
plans to expand its investment services offerings.
The Charlotte, N.C.-based bank, which has
struggled with problem loans in the past year, said Monday, it is in the process of adding 200 licensed brokers to its retail brokerage affiliate,
Banc of America Investment Services
, bringing the total to more than 800.
"They were talking about tripling the contribution
to revenue from asset management and investment business" last summer, says
banks analyst Jim Mitchell. "They need to offer not just loans and credit cards. More and more banks want to capture the wallets of their retail customers." (Mitchell rates Bank of America hold, and his firm has no underwriting relationship with it.)
Like a number of other banks, Bank of America is searching for additional sources of revenue to reduce its dependence on traditional lending, which is often volatile because of its dependence on shifting interest rates. In the fourth quarter Bank of America reported a 27% slide in profits as the cost of problem loans ate into earnings, causing a shortfall.
Fee-based businesses such as investment advice are one way of balancing lending risks. Bank of America said the move reflects its larger strategy of "investing in its growth businesses," including asset management. The bank also said it will increase the number of banking center associates who are licensed to sell certain mutual funds and annuity products, to 3,500 from 2,500.
The bank said the moves are part of a series of investment initiatives announced last summer, including the completion of its $1.1 billion acquisition of investment management firm
in late June and the expansion of private banking offices in California and on the East Coast.
However, Mitchell thinks the shift will take some work. It has "definitely been a big struggle for the banks to sell investment products through branches," the analyst says. "It's difficult to get the sales-type mentality in branches" and to get banking customers to think about taking advantage of those services. "Just coming up with a couple of hundred more series-6 licenses doesn't get them where they want to be," says Mitchell, referring to the type of license required to sell certain investment products.
Mitchell says he would not be surprised if Bank of America moves to build on the investment services efforts through acquisitions such as an online broker. There are a handful of online brokers that are struggling and don't have the benefit of branches, such as that of
, he says. He adds that any such broker would certainly be helped by Bank of America's brand name, not to mention its base of about 30 million customers. A Bank of America spokesman declined to comment on the matter.
Shares of Bank of America were slipping 35 cents to $48.79.