Escalating its effort to dominate middle-market banking in New England, Fleet Financial Group Inc. has lured three Wall Street veterans to its burgeoning corporate banking group.

The Boston-based banking company hired Peter Nightingale from Chase Manhattan Corp. to head loan syndications, sales, and trading; John Molloy from CIBC Wood Gundy Inc., to lead asset securitization; and Laurence Stone of SPP Hambro & Co., to supervise origination, structuring, and execution of private debt and equity placements.

Tim Conway, a managing director at Fleet and head of its growing corporate banking group, said the bank plans to build its corporate banking business around some 17,000 lending relationships, many of which came with the acquisitions of Shawmut National Corp. and National Westminster Bancorp.

"Our challenge is to get out in front of our customers and broaden our product array," said Mr. Conway, who joined Fleet from Citicorp in March. "We've now got the people in place to do that, and we've got a very receptive marketplace."

Fleet is one of a growing number of superregional banks, including First Union Corp., NationsBank Corp., and cross-town rival Bank of Boston Corp., that have been grabbing up New York talent to enhance their investment banking clout.

While rival corporate bankers debated Fleet's assertion that it now has the dominant position in New England, they conceded that the hirings give Fleet some momentum.

"I see them as a viable competitor in the higher end and middle market in the East, and even among some of the corporate market in the Northeast and southern New England," said a corporate banker at a money-center bank in New York. "Mr. Conway is building a good team."

Some analysts saw the hirings as a clear sign that the bank is trying to shift its mix toward more fee-based business.

Anthony Davis, a bank analyst at Dean Witter Reynolds, said 38% of Fleet's June revenues came from recurring fee businesses, six percentage points more than at a typical bank.

"The plan of management is to continue to push that higher," Mr. Davis said, "and these three will clearly help them do that."

In addition, Mr. Davis said, Fleet's increasing size bolsters the importance of managing its balance sheet exposure.

All three of the new bankers will report to Mr. Conway.

The 37-year-old Mr. Stone is a two-and-a-half-year veteran of boutique private placement firm SPP Hambro, where he focused on origination.

Mr. Molloy, 36, is a former director in the asset securitization group at CIBC and an eight-year veteran of CIBC Leasing Inc., where he originated and structured debt and equity investments for CIBC's leasing portfolio.

The 42-year-old Mr. Nightingale is a former managing director of global syndicated finance at Chase Securities Inc., which boasts the country's largest loan syndication business.

Lately, several Chase syndicated lenders have found opportunities elsewhere, reflecting both the increasing number of commercial and investment banks entering the market and the fallout from last spring's Chemical-Chase merger.

"There are some very good people who have left Chase," said Tony Lord, executive recruiter at the search firm Ward Howell International. "There continue to be good people to be picked off."

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