Two architects of Bane One Corp.'s mutual fund strategy are leaving the company, raising; questions about the future direction of the ambitious program. Robert Howers, president and chief executive of Bane One Securities Corp., has given notice that he intend to resign, said Paul F. Walsh, chief executive of Bane One Diversified Services Corp.
Mr. Flowers is said to be in the running for the top brokerage job at Barnett Banks Inc., Jacksonville, Fla.
And MichelIe Lezmeir, senior managing director of Banc One Investment Advisors, confirmed that she plans to leave within six months. She will remain in charge of the bank's proprietary mutual funds until then.
The departures have been rumored for weeks, prompting speculation that Bane One was having trouble with its plan to become an investment products powerhouse.
The Ohio-based banking concern, considered one of the best retail marketers in the industry, has been trying to boost sharply its sales at personal investment centers in more than 600 branches. But some observers think those efforts may be losing steam.
"There's not the great enthusiasm for offering mutual funds that there was a year ago," said Nancy Bush, a bank analyst at Brown Brothers Harriman & Co., New York. "I think everyone is reassessing what they're doing."
Mr. Walsh insisted Banc One remains committed to mutual funds and is pleased with its progress.
"I'm sure there are people who would love to be able to portray our efforts as not being successful," he said in a telephone interview. "That's not the feeling we have."
He said Banc One is continuing to experiment with the structure of its personal investment centers as it learns more about the services customers want.
At some centers, he said, sales are "above what our expectations were. In other cases, it frankly isn't what we'd like it to be."
But on balance, Mr. Walsh said, "we are ahead of schedule. We are doing more dollar volume and more customer transactions than we ever thought we were going to do."
Cites Strong Sales
Mr. Walsh declined to specify the sales volume, calling it confidential. But he said sales have been about double the company's expectations.
Mr. Walsh indicated that the departures were unrelated to a management reshuffling last month.
At that time, Charles W. Sulerzyski was placed in charge of retail investor services and Geoffrey A. von Kuhn was named to head institutional investor services.
Mr. Walsh said those appointments reflected Banc One's "long-stated intention" to develop distinct strategies to reach both retail and institutional investors.
Mr. Howers joined Banc One in 1992 from First Union Corp. He did not return phone calls seeking comment.
If he moves to Barnett, he would replace James Daniel, who stepped down in April as chief executive of Barnett Securities. Mr. Daniel joined Wall Street Investor Services, an investment products marketing firm in New York, as a senior vice president.
Goldman Sachs Veteran
Ms. Lenzmeier also joined Banc One two years ago, coming from Goldman, Sachs & Co., New York.
"I want to get back into the mainstream of the mutual fund business," she said.
At Banc One, she has been in charge of the One Group of FUnds. During her tenure, the fund assets have grown to $8.2 billion, from $5 billion.