Citizens Financial Group has hired away a high-ranking executive from a rival to accelerate its growth in Massachusetts.

Thomas J. Hollister, a 20-year veteran of BankBoston Corp., will join $5.5 billion-asset Citizens Bank of Massachusetts at the end of September as chairman, president, and chief executive officer.

He will also oversee Citizens' international banking and cash management services. Mr. Hollister succeeds Robert M. Mahoney, who recently was named vice chairman of wholesale banking.

Citizens Financial, a $17.2 billion-asset banking company based in Providence, R.I., and controlled by Royal Bank of Scotland, has been among New England's fastest-growing financial institutions.

"They have been a very aggressive acquirer," said James Moynihan, an analyst at Advest Inc.

Analysts said Citizens, a ferocious competitor with Fleet Financial Group and BankBoston Corp., has begun to focus on the more populous states of Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Mr. Hollister, who most recently was a BankBoston executive vice president and head of retail and small-business banking, will be in charge of boosting Citizens' retail and commercial presence in BankBoston's home state.

"I consider us very fortunate to have him directing our fastest-growing banking franchise," said Lawrence K. Fish, Citizens' chairman and chief executive officer.

Mr. Fish and Mr. Hollister have crossed paths before. Mr. Fish was head of retail operations at the old Bank of Boston Corp. in the late 1970s, around the time Mr. Hollister joined the company.

A spokeswoman for BankBoston said a successor to Mr. Hollister has not been named. Recently, BankBoston named Bradford Warner vice chairman in charge of all retail services.

The spokeswoman said Mr. Hollister's decision to leave was unrelated. He was unavailable to comment.

Citizens has 105 Massachusetts branches.

Since 1992, Citizens has made 12 acquisitions, advancing west and north from Rhode Island across Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. The most recently completed deal, for $160 million-asset Woburn National Bank in August, brought Citizens five branches in Boston's northern suburbs.

Another deal, for four branches of Branford Savings Bank in Connecticut, is pending. Analysts said they expect Citizens' acquisition binge to continue. "They still have gaps," Mr. Moynihan said.

Last spring, the company hired a full-time mergers and acquisitions specialist, senior vice president Kent Allen. u

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