After eight years in the U.S. institutional market, Bank of Ireland Asset Management is now setting its sights on a new sector: individual investors.

Through a joint venture with Berger Associates, a Denver-based no-load fund company, the Bank of Ireland Group subsidiary will launch an international equity fund during the third quarter of this year. The no- load fund, the first in a planned family of international and global funds, will be marketed to retail investors and to defined-contribution plans.

Bank of Ireland Asset Management already manages about $5 billion in assets for 103 U.S. institutional clients, including many in the public sector. Now, it sees an opportunity to use its expertise - international stock picking - to lure individual investors, said Denis Curran, president of the asset management subsidiary's U.S. unit.

"We couldn't fail to notice that when we met with our trustees, they wanted to get our funds for themselves," he said.

The bank investigated entering the retail market on its own but decided it needed a partner if it was to take advantage of the current bull market. "The learning curve is too long and the demand is there now," Mr. Curran said. "We didn't know anything about distribution."

That's where Berger comes in. A subsidiary of Kansas City Southern Industries, Berger counts 300,000 U.S. households among its fund clients. The 20-year old company, with $3.6 billion in assets under management, is looking to Bank of Ireland to add an international dimension to its product line.

"We could've done it ourselves but that would have taken us two years," said Gerard Levin, Berger's president and chief executive.

Bank of Ireland Asset Management, a subsidiary of the Bank of Ireland Group, will manage the fund, while Berger will handle its marketing, distribution, and administration. Berger plans to pitch the new funds through direct-mail campaigns and financial planners.

Observers of the mutual fund scene said the joint venture is a logical way for Bank of Ireland to approach the U.S. retail market.

"Berger has developed a substantial distribution capability and Bank of Ireland has a good performance record," said Geoff Bobroff, an East Greenwich, R.I.-based fund consultant. Pensions and Investments' performance evaluation report has ranked Bank of Ireland Asset Management among the top 10% of international equity managers over 1, 5, and 10 years, Mr. Bobroff said.

Bank of Ireland and Berger have dubbed their new venture BBOI Worldwide. In addition to the initial international equity portfolio, Denver-based BBOI plans to launch an entire family of international funds, including an emerging market fund and a global bond fund.

Mr. Levin said Bank of Ireland's "bottom-up" investment strategy mimics Berger's own in that it favors picking individual stocks rather than countries or markets. "We're good at picking companies and that's what Bank of Ireland does," he said.

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