Hurt by low interest rates, banks are looking hard at entering into or expanding their wealth management businesses.

Banks’ main source of revenue, interest income, has flattened since 2009 and “net interest margin is in a free fall," said Robert Matthews, chief executive of Fieldpoint Private Bank & Trust.

And it’s going to get worse, he said. Legacy loans made when rates were higher are going to continue rolling off the books, Matthews said. Trust business and non-interest income has also flat-lined since the financial crisis.

So banks see wealth management as the best way to build revenues, Matthews said Sunday at the opening session of the American Bankers Association Wealth Management and Trust conference in Phoenix.

Matthews, a former Citibank and Smith Barney executive, warned the wealth management personnel in attendance to be ready to take a higher profile in their organizations where wealth management historically hasn’t had a big role.

But whether banks will succeed in wealth management is an open question. For one thing, “not everyone in the [banking] industry gets it,” Matthews said. For those that have made a foray into the wealth business, a majority haven’t earned a competitive return on capital, and more than a third have lost money.

Sticking “a guy at a desk [in the branch] with a brochure rack is not the answer,” Matthews said. And cross-selling bank customers won’t work. It’s a “myth,” he said. “Nobody wants to be sold an investment.”

Banks should emulate the independent RIA model, he said, with a holistic, fiduciary, fee-based model offering unconflicted advice, account aggregation and financial planning. (Matthews noted that his firm gets half of its revenue by billing on assets held elsewhere.)

But across the industry, most retail clients aren’t getting full planning. “The biggest hurdle could be the advisors who see a path to getting assets without [doing] a plan,” he said.

Another hurdle is bank management. Boards and top leadership don’t always fully commit. They need to buy into the idea of no cross-selling. And the time needed to properly build a wealth management franchise may surpass board and management longevity in some cases.

“You are selling solutions. If you do, clients will take the products from you,” Matthews said.

Using outsourcing services and partnership opportunities with third-party wealth managers, banks can get into the space quickly even with limited resources, Matthews said.

Trust companies and banks that have seen success with elements of the correct approach include Northern Trust, J.P. Morgan’s Chase Private Client, Wells Fargo (with Wells Fargo Advisors), First Foundation (originally an RIA firm that got into banking) and First Western, Matthews added.