If you haven't visited your friendly neighborhood bank or savings-and-loan lately, you may be in for some surprises. While the tellers and the little tables with deposit slips that children like to scribble on while they wait for their parents are still around, there are also several new products and services.
Today, the manager at a small bank or thrift is apt to pull out brochures for such nontraditional areas as investments, mutual funds, and trust services. Or, in one corner of the bank, there may be an office-within-the-office where you can buy or sell stocks and bonds.
It is all part of an effort by small banks and thrifts to survive in the fast-deregulating world of banking and financial services, where big banks gobble up smaller banks almost every week. If they are going to compete in this arena, the little guys want to come as close to a full-service operation as they can afford.
For middle-income individuals, the changes mean they can now get the same type of investment and trust services at their local bank that have been almost exclusively provided by large brokerage houses and big-city commercial banks.
One of the companies operating these stock and bond mini-offices is ISFA Corporation, based in Tampa, Fla. In the past year, it has placed its INVEST offices in more than 135 savings-and-loan offices in 27 United States markets.
At the same time, Wright Investors' Service, a Bridgeport, Conn., investment manager, is working with Investors Bank & Trust Company in Boston and several smaller banks in New England to provide a full range of trust services to those banks' customers. These services are more commonly associated with the big commercial banks that manage large amounts of money or property for individuals or institutions.
''We're serving the whole spectrum of customers,'' Dan D. McConnell, chairman and chief executive officer of ISFA, says of the INVEST program. ''Demographically, though, our customers are a reflection of the S&L customers. They're generally 49 and over - in some cases, well over - but they have the money. In doing research, we found young people like the idea. But the fact is, we're doing most of our business with people in their 50s and 60s.''
What these people are getting, Mr. McConnell said, is a full range of stock and bond trading services. What they are not getting is a broker's attempt to advise them on the best stocks and bonds to buy. The INVEST representatives, as they're called, are salaried and do not receive commissions.
Mr. McConnell says the advice these representatives give out is the same throughout the INVEST system. With the assistance of Value Line and Standard & Poor's, INVEST develops one set of recommendations on stocks and bonds and when to buy or sell them. The representatives are not allowed to give their personal opinions at all, he adds. The trades are executed through the Pershing division of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette.
More speculative securities, such as commodity futures, financial futures, and stock index futures, are not recommended or offered by INVEST, in keeping with a stated philosophy of being ''conservative, growth-oriented, yet cautious.''
McConnell says most of the feedback he is getting from INVEST customers and representatives indicates the service appeals to people who ''wouldn't have trusted their money to a broker,'' but want the benefit of some professional guidance as to the best securities to buy.
The cost of trades at INVEST offices falls between full-service, where a wide range of investment services and research is offered, and discount brokers, where no one, either in the head office or in local branches, offers recommendations of any kind.
For the banks and thrifts involved in the Wright Investors' Service/Investors Bank & Trust venture, the service will give them a chance to keep longstanding customers who might otherwise have gone elsewhere for their trust services, says John J. Moughty, a Wright vice-president.
For example, he explains, a person may have had a lifetime relationship with a small bank or savings institution. When that person passes on, however, his heirs may switch the money to a commercial bank to obtain trust services. Now, that account can be kept at the thrift and a long-term relationship can be developed and kept.
Federally chartered thrift institutions have had the power to handle trust business for about two years, but few have gone into it because of the high starting costs, including the expense of research and investment divisions.
In the not-too-distant future, Mr. Moughty says, and as more states expand thrifts' powers, he expects other thrifts to turn to Wright or companies like it to help establish trust operations.
Instead of being invested in securities directly, Mr. Moughty says, the trust money goes into one of several private mutual funds. In addition to a money market fund, there are stock and bond funds that ''can accommodate a wide variety of investment objectives.''
The goal, he says, is to provide ''Middle America with the same kind of professional management (of trusts) they've been locked out of, the kind wealthier individuals have had for some time.
''We also want to create some profit for the thrifts.''
If you would like a question considered for publication in this column, please send it to Moneywise, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, Mass. 02115. No personal replies can be given by mail or phone. References to investments are not an endorsement or recommendation by this newspaper.