First Union Corp.'s mutual fund unit has hired a squad of sales representatives to increase its distribution through broker-dealers.

The bank's plans for distributing mutual funds burgeoned in December, when it bought Keystone Investments, said William Ennis 3d, president of Evergreen Keystone Investment Services, as the newly merged unit is called.

Plans of the Charlotte, N.C.-based bank

The fund division, which manages $30 billion of assets, hired nine members for its external sales force, including two regional sales managers. The new hires will serve broker-dealers exclusively and target national wirehouses, Mr. Ennis said.

"The growth of financial planners has become a phenomenon, and we need to be able to optimize our coverage" of this distribution channel, Mr. Ennis said. "Competing forces are already out there mobilizing that community as well."

The fund division will double its sales force over the next two years, Mr. Ennis said. It will be segmented to concentrate on specific distribution channels, he said, such as insurance companies, national wirehouses, NASD firms, other banks, retirement specialists, and variable annuity specialists.

"A segmentation of distribution channels is necessary to compete," he said.

The two new regional sales managers both came from industry powerhouse Fidelity Investments.

Wright Edler, who will be responsible for wholesalers west of the Mississippi, was vice president at Fidelity Investments Institutional Services.

And Joe Hart, regional manager for all wholesalers east of the Mississippi, was southeast division manager at Fidelity.

First Union adopted Keystone's telephone-based approach to sales, which matches each of the fund unit's 23 external salespeople with a telephone sales counterpart.

The telephone wholesalers follow up the external force's sales calls, answer questions, provide sales ideas and literature, and sometimes travel to support the external sales force, Mr. Ennis said.

The unit's executives decided the sales force should be divided geographically to thoroughly blanket its targeted market and expand distribution, Mr. Ennis said. It is the first geographical division of the sales force, he added.

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