First Union Corp.'s planned acquisition of Signet Banking Corp. would add a small but nimble mutual fund complex to the banking giant's burgeoning fund business.

Signet, based in Richmond, Va., is renowned for its direct marketing and data base mining skills, particularly in the credit card business it spun off in 1994. In 1995, when the bank bought the Blanchard Funds-a company known for its direct marketing savvy-observers said it was a natural extension for Signet.

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