Well, they certainly don't feature heavily in the prestigious performance awards that are doled out each year. In fact, last year not one bank or building society picked up a single Micropal award. In 1993, however, Britannia was a surprise winner of the most coveted prize - the Micropal Unit Trust Company of the Year.
Most have rather patchy performance. N&P, though, has an excellent record with its Higher Income Fund, coming fourth in its sector over 10 years, second over 5 years and third over 3 years. But its international fund has not fared so well, coming 32nd over 10 years, 96th over 5 years and 114th over 3 years. Similarly, National Westminster, over two years, has two funds in the bottom quarter of its sector, one in the third, four in the second and two in the top quarter.
The problem is that most banks and building societies are new to the game. The independent financial adviser Stephen Lansdown, joint managing director of Hargreaves Lansdown, believes most have not been in the unit trust market long enough to judge their performance.
"Thc only parallel we have got is in the life insurance industry, which has really not made the grade," he said. "Time will tell but I don't hold out much hope that banks and building societies will be top performers. I expect them to achieve reasonable performance, probably being slightly above average."
He believes the top performers will continue to be the specialist fund management companies, which dominate the top of performance tables.
"I wouldn't recommend a bank or building society for unit trusts when I can go to a specialist like Schroder or Perpetual, where it will cost the same but you get a much better spread," said Mr Lansdown. "Why pick a UK equity fund from Halifax when you can go to Schroder, which has a good track record, has been around for a number of years and the people running the fund have been around for years? You are taking a bit of a flyer with a bank or building society."
"The problem is that people believe a building society is a safe haven for their money, and in reality that may not be the case with unit trusts. There may well be a good number of disappointed investors out there in the future who have invested in a building society or bank unit trust," Mr Lansdown said.