WASHINGTON - While dozens of U.S. banks focus on building a domestic presence in mutual funds, Citicorp is homing in on opportunities overseas.

The nation's largest bank, which manages only $3.9 billion of U.S. mutual funds, has boosted its global fund assets to $30 billion, up 50% in the past 30 months, according to David Cariseo, managing director of Citibank Global Funds. About half is in fixed-income funds, with the rest split among equity and money market funds.

"It's been a steady 10% to 15% growth business," Mr. Cariseo said during an interview at the Investment Company Institute's annual meeting here.

To be sure, some of those gains may be illusory, reflecting weakness in the dollar. But as one of a handful of U.S. banks with extensive overseas operations, Citicorp is well positioned to participate in an expected boom in global mutual fund assets.

Right now, the United States is the world leader in mutual funds, with $2.3 trillion of assets. But fund assets are growing faster in Europe because the business is just taking root and savings rates are higher than in the United States, according to A. Michael Lipper, president of Lipper Analytical Services, Summit, N.J.

Mr. Lipper said funds domiciled in Europe totaled $1.3 trillion in September 1994. France is the largest market, with $342 billion of assets, followed by Luxembourg ($293 billion), the United Kingdom ($130 billion), and Germany ($120 billion.)

A substantial chunk of Citicorp's global fund assets are managed in Luxembourg, the Bahamas, and other locales where securities and tax laws favor mutual fund managers and investors. But increasingly, Mr. Cariseo said, Citicorp is moving into markets where the retail mutual fund business is booming.

"We're getting into Germany and Belgium. We'll be in the United Kingdom shortly. And we're launching in the Philippines," Mr. Cariseo said.

Mr. Lipper said Citi's success in gathering fund assets will vary from country to country.

"For example, their bank in Germany is a former savings institution," Mr. Lipper said. "It's probably somewhat down-market. I think that's an excellent place for them to build fund assets."

In contrast, he said, "their banks in the U.K. tend to be at the other end of the extreme - way up at the upper end. There are some problems in building off that."

Mr. Lipper said Citicorp is still in the process of uncovering mutual fund assets it manages worldwide - a task that Mr. Cariseo began when he joined the bank at the end of 1991.

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