As part of an effort to expand its investment banking operations in Europe, Bank of America Corp. said Wednesday that it had named Jay R. Allen to head a new financial sponsors group based in London.

The appointment is effective immediately.

Mr. Allen, 42, previously led a team within the company's New-York-based financial sponsors group. He will move to London at the beginning of next year and direct a team of about 10 bankers, four of whom already have started their jobs.

Financial sponsor groups provide a range of services to venture capital and buyout firms -- from loans to merger advice to underwriting initial public offerings.

"One of the things we can bring to the table is a full suite of products: bank debt, merger advisory services, etc.," Mr. Allen said in an interview Wednesday.

Bank of America is targeting 20 to 25 major financial sponsors in Europe, said Robert Griffin, head of the company's global financial sponsors group. Among these are Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., Hicks Muse Tate & Furst Inc., and Compass Partners LLC. Mr. Allen reports to Mr. Griffin.

Mr. Allen named New York-based Chase Manhattan Corp. as Bank of America's top competitor among U.S. commercial banks serving financial sponsors in Europe.

Chase, which could not be reached to comment, agreed last week to buy investment bank Hambrecht & Quist Group Inc. in order to further its equities effort.

Bank of America opened its first European equities sales and trading unit in London last month. The Charlotte, N.C., company hopes to become one of the top 10 European investment banks in equities over the next five years.

Analysts said they approved of Bank of America's European expansion plans. But some said the company has been slow to move.

"Bank of America is a little behind the curve in terms of its competitive stance versus Chase Manhattan and J.P. Morgan & Co., which already are at the forefront of expanding European capital markets," said Andrew Collins, a bank analyst at ING Barings. "Bank of America is making the right moves, given the explosive growth we could see in leveraged lending and capital markets. But this is a catch-up."

Mr. Allen acknowledged that some U.S. competitors have beaten Bank of America to the punch. "But that's all in the last 12-18 months," he said. "Everyone views this market as one that will grow for years to come."

He said Bank of America's strong high-yield bond underwriting and loan syndication operations in Europe will help build the financial sponsors group. Bank of America was the No. 7 arranger of international syndicated loans by West European borrowers in the first half of this year, according to Euromoney magazine.

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