The architect of Premier Bancorp's aggressive mutual fund drive has jumped ship to help a small Chicago banking company build its own investment program.

Richard White Jr. resigned from Premier last month to join Cole Taylor Financial Group as executive vice president in charge of mutual fund and trust efforts.

Industry observers speculated that Mr. White opted for a sure thing at Cole Taylor instead of possibly being squeezed out if Banc One Corp., as is widely expected, exercises an option to purchase Premier. The option, which can be triggered this June, was granted to Banc One in 1991 in return for infusing capital into then-struggling Premier.

If a buyout occurs, Premier's investment program would likely be folded into the multistate effort that Banc One has crafted, industry consultants said.

Mr. White, 60, acknowledged that Baton Rouge, La.-based Premier may go to Banc One this summer, but he declined to link his departure to the possible purchase.

Instead, Mr. White said, he liked the idea of switching from "a larger bank in a smaller market to a smaller bank in a big market. This is an opportunity I couldn't pass up."

In casting his lot with Cole Taylor, Mr. White has joined a $1.6 billion-asset institution that uses a handful of sales representatives to deliver investment products in nine branches.

Cole Taylor operates its three-year-old investment program with help from Aon Inc., an investment products marketer based in Richmond, Va.

Premier's program is run with support from GNA Corp., Seattle, an investments marketer Mr. White has praised at industry conferences. Mr. White said that although the Cole Taylor program is being "evaluated," there are no immediate plans to replace Aon with GNA.

Cole Taylor's efforts are in sharp contrast to those of Premier, whose seven-year-old investment program has made innovation a hallmark. Premier was among the first financial institutions to expand its program to community banks and to add back-end sales loads to its proprietary mutual funds.

Mr. White said some of Premier's initiatives, such as cross-selling investment, trust, and traditional bank products, will be applied at Cole Taylor.

But industry observers say the Iowa native has his work cut out for him. For one thing, Cole Taylor operates in a number of low-income communities whose residents are less inclined to embrace trust and investment services.

Cole Taylor is also based in the backyard of banks such as Banc One, NBD Bancorp, and First Chicago Corp. that have well-established investment sales operations.

Mr. White said Cole Taylor will be able to make its mark in the investments sales business by putting considerable emphasis on marketing and hiring more sales representatives.

The banking company's top executives back his assertion.

"We're looking to aggressively build our trust and investment areas," said Cole Taylor president Bruce Taylor. "Dick White, with his leadership ability and experience, is perfect to assist us."

For his part, Mr. White is already looking ahead to a day when Cole Taylor's program will be entrenched enough to support proprietary mutual funds.

"We're not big enough yet, but maybe someday," he said.

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