Fleet Financial Group is looking for acquisitions to beef up its asset management business, a senior bank executive said Tuesday.

Thomas M. O'Neill, president of Fleet Investment Advisors Inc., said the Boston-based bank wants to double its assets under management to $100 billion over the next five years.

To reach that goal, Fleet is looking to buy a sizable money manager, Mr. O'Neill said in an interview. The bank would let an acquired boutique firm with a specialized niche remain autonomous and retain its identity in the marketplace, he added.

But Mr. O'Neill stressed that the bank is looking for deals primarily to gain critical mass-not investment performance.

"If some of the big names in Boston had some of the records we have, they'd be blaring it from trumpets," he said. A handful of equity portfolios in the bank's Galaxy mutual fund family turned in one-year performances in the top third of their categories, according to Lipper Analytical Services.

Fleet is the latest in a slew of banks, foreign and domestic, to show a zeal for money manager acquisitions. Just last week, J.P. Morgan & Co. said it would pay cash for 45% of American Century Cos., a Kansas City, Mo.- based mutual fund firm that manages $60 billion.

If Fleet were to hit its goal of $100 billion under management tomorrow, it would still rank behind several bank-affiliated investment firms. State Street Corp. and Bankers Trust New York Corp. manage $300 billion and $230 billion of assets, respectively. And the country's largest asset manager, Fidelity Investments, has $552 billion under management.

Mr. O'Neill said he has worked to enhance Fleet's investment line to make it more attractive to clients and potential partners. He helped institute specialized investment teams and a compensation package tied to the subsidiary's profits.

"The changes we made changed the landscape of who would want to get allied with us," Mr. O'Neill said.

"To the extent banks are going to be successful in this business, they're going to have to do things like that," said Bradford I. Hearsh, a PaineWebber Inc. investment banker. u

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