Program managers are in a difficult spot, but one with a lot of potential.

Difficult because the crucial issue in this channel-the support of bank management-still plagues most investment programs. It's a topic that continues to surface in interviews with advisors and at conferences.

The potential can be seen, both anecdotally and statistically, by the banks that are beginning to increase non-interest income. As interest rates remain stubbornly low, the fee income provided by programs is more prized. But even for banks that want to embrace their investment programs, the oft-cited culture clash is still hard to overcome. That yawning gap between banks and advisors too often keeps the two factions worlds apart. And standing in the middle of that gap is the program manager.

That's what makes our Top 20 Program Managers so timely. One common theme we heard this year from the managers was the strategy of giving referrals to the bankers instead of just waiting to receive them. Not educating tellers on what constitutes a good advisory prospect; not buying pizza on Friday; and certainly not complaining about silos or turf wars. Rather, helping your bank partners do well at their job before seeking their assistance.

Indeed, the issue of seeking referrals in tough situations is also the basis of our Careers column. Contributor Rick Rummage writes about the new age of banking when many customers never walk into a branch because of online banking or even ATMs. With those warm leads drying up, advisors need to be more proactive than ever in prospecting, he says.

A different problem occurs for advisors in small towns like New Albany, Miss., where there's only one bank and an advisor feels like he needs to take care of everyone. Read our Producer Profile for more details on one particular situation and how the advisor is working to create viable solutions for his clients.

His story illustrates just one scenario where an advisor found the potential from a difficult spot.