Amsouth Bancorp. sees gold in the Gulf Coast of Florida.

The Birmingham, Ala., banking company has increased its brokerage and trust sales force from 28 to 48 since early 1996, said Michael C. Baker, executive vice president in charge of Amsouth's capital management group.

And it recently hired Gary R. Zino, a former Barnett Banks executive, to round up new trust clients from an office in Clearwater, Fla. Between banks, Mr. Zino worked in Florida for Fisher Investments Inc., a Woodside, Calif.-based investment advisory firm.

"We've been steadily expanding the trust and investment sales force in Florida," Mr. Baker said. "We're delighted to have Gary join us, and he's evidence of that expansion."

Florida, where the company once retained a third-party marketing firm to establish a brokerage, now supplies 40% of the $18.4 billion-asset banking company's business. Amsouth has 120 branches in the state and 25 investment offices, including St. Petersburg, Clearwater, and Pensacola.

Mr. Zino is the latest of many new salespeople hired by Amsouth in Florida from other banks and brokerages. Mr. Baker joined Amsouth, which has more than $7 billion of discretionary assets under management, in September 1995 after working in Florida for many years, most recently as chief executive officer of Barnett Banks Trust Co.

Amsouth's investment unit remains small potatoes compared with other banks in the Sunshine State.

Barnett Banks Inc. has 381 financial consultants and private-client executives with Series 7 licenses working in 49 offices registered with the state for investment services. Northern Trust Corp. has 24 offices in the state with nearly 350 people servicing investments, including 110 account administrators, 60 trust marketers, and 44 portfolio managers.

The brokerage business is also an important part of SunTrust Banks Inc.'s strategy in Florida, where it has 67 registered trust and investment offices and $23.3 billion of discretionary assets under management, serviced by 825 people.

"We see it as an important distribution strategy for our fund complex," said Hunting F. "Hunt" Deutsch, president of SunTrust Banks of Florida's trust and investment services group. "We'd rather see our customers buy securities through us than nonbank competitors."

SunTrust Securities, which has 34,586 brokerage accounts in Florida with $1.5 billion of assets, increased its staff by 40%, to 140 people, this year. Its sales are up 47% year-to-date from a year earlier.

"It's a competitive market. Everybody is looking to expand their program in Florida. Everybody fights over the good reps," Mr. Baker said.

He added that experience with Florida securities regulations is an important concern when hiring there, given that Amsouth was investigated during the past year by the state's attorney general.

"Compliance is always an issue with us," Mr. Baker said. "We're always alert to be in full compliance and to provide full disclosure to customers. Frankly, the regulators raised issues quite some time back that have been fully resolved."

Besides adding people, Amsouth created two mutual funds this summer, bringing its total of proprietary funds to 12, with $3.6 billion under management. A large cap mutual fund, Amsouth Capital Growth Fund, was launched Aug. 1. It is subadvised by Peachtree Asset Management, Atlanta. Earlier, a $300 million common trust fund was converted to Amsouth Municipal Bond Fund.

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