Breaking with their parent company, six Chicago banking units of ABN Amro North America have chosen an outside marketing firm to help them sell mutual funds.

The banking units, led by LaSalle Talman Bank, have cut their ties with ABN Amro's brokerage in favor of using Laughlin Group of Cos., an investment products marketer based in Beaverton, Ore.

Executives close to the banking company say internal conflicts between various units spurred the retail-minded banks to go their own way after a year with ABN Amro's brokerage.

Representatives of ABN Amro say only that the restructuring should allow all units to better serve customers.

Size Nearly Doubled

The spinoff program, called LaSalle Financial Services, nearly doubled in size last week when ABN Amro's latest purchase, Cragin Financial Corp., was folded into the LaSalle organization.

LaSalle Financial Services now has 36 brokers selling mutual funds through 80 branches, said the unit's president, Tom Haracz.

"We have the vast majority of retail responsibility in the Chicago area," Mr. Haracz said. ABN Amro's Chicago operations also include LaSalle National Bank, whose branches cater primarily to commercial customers.

'Long-Term Strategy'

LaSalle National and European American Bank, a New York unit of ABN Amro, are sticking with the Dutch company's program, including brokerage ABN Amro Investment Services, for their retail sales efforts.

European American Bank remained with ABN Amro Investment Services "because we felt it was the appropriate long-term strategy," said Stephen Stellhorn, group senior vice president with the Uniondale, N.Y. bank.

European American Bank has 34 sales representatives offering mutual funds and annuities through 88 branches on Long Island and in New York City.

Mr. Haracz said only that he was not comfortable with the approach ABN Amro was taking. Rank and file customers risked being "overlooked" while ABN Amro Investment Services hunted for higher-net-worth customers, customers, he said.

Brokerage Launched in '93

ABN Amro last year launched its centralized brokerage as part of a drive to offer investment products, including the bank company's family of 13 Rembrandt mutual funds.

With the latest turn of events, LaSalle Talman still offers the Rembrandt funds, but with brokerage and support services supplied by Laughlin Group.

"We're serving the mass retail market," as opposed to the institutional and corporate clients that LaSalle National primarily works with, said Russ Cobler, managing director of retail development at Laughlin.

Laughlin is an independent investment products marketer that counts more than 60 banks as retail clients.

A Unique Approach

Industry analysts call ABN Amro's approach unique, saying few if any bank companies use both an internal and an external brokerage for their retail mutual fund sales programs.

One observer said the approach may prove costly, because training, management and support efforts must all be duplicated.

"On the surface, it doesn't sound like a very efficient approach," said Dennis Dolego, partner at Financial Research Corp., Southport, Conn.

But, Mr. Dolego added, "If it mitigates infighting, then maybe this is the way for them to go."

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