Thrift holding company H.F. Ahmanson & Co. has joined the list of financial institutions offering brokerage accounts that diversify assets among a range of mutual funds.

The $53 billion-asset Ahmanson, based in Irwindale, Calif., is the second thrift-related institution to offer such a program, known as a mutual fund wrap account.

Ahmanson's brokerage arm, Griffin Financial Services, is marketing the account, called the Griffin Portfolio Builder.

Griffin requires a $10,000 minimum investment, the same as Wells Fargo, but lower than some other banks. Keycorp requires an investment of $25,000; First Chicago requires $50,000.

Griffin's wrap account allows customers to automatically allocate investments among the proprietary family of mutual funds, and the international fund of T. Rowe Price.

If customers want to continue adding to their investment, they can do so on a regular basis, and the bank will automatically move funds from a checking or savings account. Griffin charges no sales load, but does charge a management fee of 1% of assets under management up to a $100,000 investment.

Fees decline on higher investments. Griffin has sold about 100 accounts in California, Texas, Florida, and New York - the states where Home Savings of America, Ahmanson's savings and loan subsidiary, has branch offices.

"We're trying to make this accessible to a broad range of customers," said Bill Hawkins, president of Griffin Financial. "Clearly there is tremendous consumer interest and demand for products of this type."

Mutual fund wrap accounts have been available for a decade, but over the past year demand has heated up.

PNC Financial Corp., Wells Fargo & Co., First Chicago Corp., and Keycorp are among the banking companies that have introduced wrap accounts over the last year, and other institutions, such as Bancorp Hawaii, have them in the works. In 1990, Great Western Financial Corp. launched a wrap account program, becoming the first thrift to do so.

For the bank and thrift industry, asset allocation products can be more profitable to sell than individual mutual funds, industry experts say.

In part, that's because banks can use them to highlight their proprietary funds, which usually don't have much name recognition with the public. Because most bank fund families are relatively new, brokers can't rely on their funds' performance over a long period of time as a selling point.

When selling an asset allocation account, however, the broker focuses more on the customer's long-term needs and goals, and on the types of funds in the portfolio - stocks, bonds, or cash funds - rather than on the merits of each fund.

"You tell the customer, 'You need 5% in an international fund,' rather than emphasizing the fund's track record," said Anne Figueredo, a principal at the Spectrem Group, a bank consulting firm based in San Francisco.

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