Booming mutual funds sales already help float the boat at Missouri's largest banking company, Boatmen's Bancshares. And last weeks' deal to buy Fourth Financial Corp. would draw $700 million of proprietary fund assets into the $4.7 billion pot.

Yet it remains unclear how Boatmen's would consolidate its popular Pilot funds with the Kansas-based bank's Funds IV family.

"It's much too early to say," said Boatmen's spokesman Larry D. Bayliss.

After all, St. Louis-based Boatmen's only recently decided that it will keep independent the brokerage operations of Worthen Banking Corp., Little Rock, a bank it acquired early this year.

But one consultant said he expects the larger and better-established Boatmen's funds to absorb the Funds IV offerings.

"In the past, the more seasoned fund family has generally been the survivor," said Geoffrey Bobroff, a consultant based in East Greenwich, R.I.

Philip Owings, senior vice president for trust and investment at Bank IV, the banking unit of Fourth Financial Corp., declined to say what direction the bank's brokerage operation and fund offerings would take. But he said any changes would require a "long lead time to get regulatory approval."

Mutual fund operations often take the back seat during bank mergers. "The mutual fund activity tends to be odd man out," Mr. Bobroff said. "They'll have to fuss with it - consolidation is difficult" as banks select which overlapping funds will survive or die.

Fourth Financial, based in Wichita, launched its Funds IV family just a year ago, by converting $465 million of trust assets. The funds, which are sold exclusively to institutional customers, have since picked up $210 million of assets.

At the high end of its market, the bank has snared the defined contribution retirement plans for Wichita-based Coleman Co., the camping equipment maker, and Mueller Industries, a 2,000-employee manufacturer of plumbing fittings.

But out of necessity, the bank has targeted sales of its mutual fund- based 401(k) retirement savings plans to small and midsize businesses, Mr. Owings said. "We've only got a handful of giant corporations in our area. Our typical client has 40 to 50 employees."

As part of its marketing effort, Fourth Financial teamed with Allen, Gibbs & Houlik, a Wichita-based accounting firm, to develop a system for flexible daily record keeping.

The program includes an option to essentially "tailor-make balanced funds at the retirement plan level by blending existing products to individual employer requests," Mr. Owings said. That feature, which he said is unique, has proved popular with many employers.

Bank IV Kansas is adviser for three equity and three bond funds. Furman Selz distributes the funds.

Boatmen's Trust offers 33 mutual funds, acting as adviser for 31 of them. Bisys Group distributes the funds.

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