Fleet Financial Group is stepping lightly onto the international investment stage-at least for now.
Under an agreement announced last week with Oechsle International Advisors, Fleet would take only a 35% stake in the globally focused investment management company, now majority owned by Dresdner Bank.
Oechsle, based like Fleet in Boston, also has offices in Hong Kong and London.
Though the deal does not give Fleet immediate rights to boost its stake in the $12 billion-asset firm, the banking company will look for ways to do so, said Gunnar S. Overstrom Jr., a Fleet vice chairman.
"Our hope is over time that we gain the confidence with Oechsle and find an arrangement whereby, if they choose to allow us to have a greater ownership, we'll find a way we can do that," he said.
Fleet has been an avid acquirer of investment businesses. Last year it bought a leading discount brokerage, Quick & Reilly Group, and a mutual fund company, Columbia Asset Management.
The banking company is no stranger to Oechsle, which has been a subadviser on its $408 million Galaxy International Equity fund for two years.
Dresdner is pulling out of Oechsle. The plan is that in September the firm's employees would buy the German bank's 65.8% and from that stake sell Fleet 35% of the company.
The employees, who already own about a third of Oechsle, would wind up owning nearly two thirds. "Fleet would be our partner in a management buyout," said Sean Roche, an Oechsle partner.
Deal terms were not disclosed, but analysts speculated Fleet would pay $150 million to $200 million for its 35%.
Fleet and Oechsle expect to unveil a global asset-allocation product by yearend, Mr. Overstrom said. Whether it is developed jointly or by Fleet with Oechsle acting as a subadviser must still be worked out, he said.
He said other possible synergies include Fleet introducing to Oechsle institutional customers that can tolerate international exposure. The bank's not-for-profit and private clients are likely to be among the most interested, he said.
Oechsle has $1 billion of assets invested for high-net-worth individuals. The majority of assets it manages are in foreign equities, held in separate accounts, with almost $7 billion managed for public pension plans, Mr. Roche said.
Industry observers generally praised Fleet's latest move. "To fill out the full spectrum of investment options, they want to have international expertise," said Burton J. Greenwald, a mutual fund analyst in Philadelphia.
But Geoffrey H. Bobroff, a fund industry consultant in East Greenwich, R.I, said it is difficult to assess where Fleet is headed.
"All of these deals are very nice, but what do they mean if Fleet is taken out?" he said.