Barnett Banks Inc. has begun preparations to eliminate sales charges on its proprietary mutual funds.

The Jacksonville, Fla., company asked the Securities and Exchange Commission last Friday for permission to dump the pricing structure of its Emerald Funds - a move Barnett expects to make April 1.

And the banking company has launched a program to familiarize Barnett employees with the price changes. A marketing campaign planned for April will emphasize expanded financial planning services offered to Emerald Fund customers.

In an interview with American Banker last week, Barnett's chief asset management executive, Richard H. Jones, said the company was leaning toward abolishing the fees, known as "loads," as a way to boost flagging sales. The $3.9 billion-asset Emerald Funds grew only 13% in 1995, compared to the broader fund industry's 31% growth rate.

"We weren't selling much of anything before, so I think this can only be positive for" the fund family's profitability, Mr. Jones said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

Mr. Jones, a longtime proponent of the no-load strategy, said Barnett's customers had been clamoring for the change. And the Investment Company Institute has reported that no-load funds accounted for 41% of all U.S. mutual fund sales in 1995, up from 36% the year before.

Barnett is still fleshing out the details of how it will pay its brokers for selling the Emerald Funds. Right now, Barnett brokers are paid commissions, usually a percentage of the fees on the funds they sell.

The payout will likely be comparable to, or slightly less than, what the salespeople now get for selling other companies' funds, Mr. Jones said. He added that investors who bought Emerald Funds after Feb. 5 would be reimbursed for the fees they paid.

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