Bank of Boston Corp. may have garnered most of the media attention when it launched a program in May to scare up new customers, but it isn't the only large bank in New England that has stepped up its efforts to attract new loans.

Fleet Financial Group Inc. has been beating the bushes for new business for a year, since it took over failed Bank of New England. Meanwhile, Shawmut National Corp. has been pushing for new customers since April.

Like Bank of Boston, both have been holding promotional seminars for customers throughout the region and have stepped up local advertising.

"Clearly things have gotten better overall" for Shawmut and the economy, said Hal Tovin, senior vice president and director of marketing. This has made it important, he said, to get the word out that the bank is eager to do business again.

He and his counterparts at Fleet said that improving economic fortunes means new lending business, which is badly needed after three years of recession.

Shawmut has been trotting out its chairman Joel B. Alvord at a series of seminars it is holding throughout New England.

It recently held one for 200 people in depressed New Bedford, Mass., and plans to hold similar meetings next month in New Haven, New London, and Providence. Mr. Alvord has said he wants to grow the company's loan portfolio $1 billion over the next few years.

Money to Lend

While Fleet won't commit to a figure, it has been pursuing a similar strategy. Since it took over Bank of New England it has been regularly running newspaper ads and television spots in the major media markets telling customers, "We're here to make a difference" implying that it has money to lend.

In the past four months it has modified that strategy to focus on ads that tout new lending deals the bank has done.

"We sensed there was a feeling on the part of the business community that they would like proof positive that banks are making credit available," said Eric Morse, Fleet senior vice president and marketing director, echoing the feelings of his competitors.

Scramble

The competition is getting fierce too.

Not that any of the big banks are lowering their credit standards to get loans in the door. Nor are they trying feverishly to out-price each other on loans. All realize, however, that there is a lot of market share up for grabs.

The recession strained many banking relationships to the breaking point. Now that those customers are thinking about additional credit, bankers realize that more than ever they are receptive to a good sales pitch.

"I think there is great volatility in the market," Mr. Morse said. "We're trying to take advantage of the fact that businesses are reevaluating their relationships with their banks."

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