BankAmerica Corp.'s planned acquisition of Robertson Stephens & Company Group comes with a bonus: a tripling of the bank's stock mutual fund assets under management.

Though BankAmerica is buying Robertson Stephens mainly for its equity underwriting and research expertise, the securities firm also brings $2.8 billion in equity funds. That's a clear boost for a bank that has been slow to grow its own equity funds, experts said.

"Assuming they merge the families, it is a tremendous benefit to increasing long-term assets under management," said Joy P. Montgomery, a consultant with Money Marketing Initiatives, Morristown, N.J.

The only hitch: Some of Robertson Stephens' funds may prove too risky for many bank customers.

A BankAmerica spokesman said the company has yet to decide how it will run the fund businesses. There are no immediate plans to merge the families, but that will be considered when the deal closes at yearend, he said.

BankAmerica, based in San Francisco, has moved in recent years to boost its equity funds, as part of a plan to grab more business from retail investors.

However, equity funds still account for just 9% of the company's $13.9 billion in total fund assets, with the remainder mainly in money market funds. BankAmerica's proprietary funds are known as the Pacific Horizon Funds and the Time Horizon Funds.

Robertson Stephens, based in San Francisco, now offers 11 equity funds. These range from traditional offerings, such as a large-capitalization stock fund, to a fund that specializes in hedging and one that sells stocks short.

"They run extremely bold funds-high octane, high expenses, high risk, high returns," said Russel Kinnel, an analyst at mutual fund rating agency Morningstar. Robertson Stephens' fund family has strong performance, but it is not for the faint of heart, he said.

The BankAmerica spokesman acknowledged the funds carry relatively high risk. The funds, he said, are more appropriate for sophisticated investors, such as private banking customers, than for general retail investors.

Robertson Stephens' funds, which carry no up-front sales charges, are currently not sold through banks, a company spokesman said. But some of its portfolio managers are familiar to bankers. John Wallace, for example, joined in 1995 from Oppenheimer Management Co., where he had run an equity fund popular at banks.

Meanwhile, BankAmerica is also working on a mutual fund "supermarket," as part of a larger push in mutual fund sales and distribution business. FundStrategies, as the initiative is called, will offer a "broad variety of guidance, products and services," the spokesman said. He declined to provide details.

Setting up a fund mart is a defensive move to keep customers from migrating to investment companies that offer a wide variety of mutual funds and consolidate a customer's investment on one statement, said Burton Greenwald, a Philadelphia mutual fund consultant.

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