In commercial real estate, the two big Boston banks have served many of the same elite clients, so Fleet Financial Group's acquisition of BankBoston Corp. may not broaden the customer base.
Instead, Kenneth J. Witkin, managing director of real estate finance at Fleet, said Wednesday that the deal is seen as a way to offer more services under the same roof-and to reduce the concentration of risk in Fleet's portfolio of real estate loans.
In recent years, BankBoston has focused on corporate lending to publicly traded real estate investment trusts. Fleet is a big REIT lender, too, but its lending has been more skewed toward traditional project loans.
"We have always been looking to have more of a balance of institutional- type real estate business in our portfolio," Mr. Witkin said.
BankBoston also brings to the table its investment banking subsidiary, Robertson Stephens, which would let Fleet offer equity underwriting services to its REIT clients-"something we don't do today," Mr. Witkin said.
He said it was "not yet determined" how the real estate department at the new Fleet Boston Corp. would be organized, or whether layoffs would be necessary.
"That is a process that is going to take shape over the next 12 months," Mr. Witkin said. Fleet's real estate department has 200 employees, BankBoston's 75.
BankBoston officials were unavailable for comment.
Even though the two banks have lent to some of the same developers-and occasionally participated in the same syndicated loans-Mr. Witkin said the merger would not necessarily require the new bank to reduce its exposure to those borrowers.
"It depends on how much capital the bank will have altogether," said Carl Kane, who heads the national real estate practice at KPMG Peat Marwick LLP of New York.
"It's certainly possible that when you add them up there would be more concentration of risk in certain clients than they'd want as a combined institution."
The two banks together hold about $9.46 billion of commercial real estate loans. Both banks have strong syndication departments, "so they can redistribute some of that risk if it's more than they want to bear," Mr. Kane added.
Last year Fleet bought a stake in Parallel Capital, a New York conduit that specializes in making "small" commercial mortgages, defined as under $3 million. Fleet's small-business banking group refers clients to Parallel, and vice versa.
Now Parallel can serve BankBoston's middle-market clients as well, Mr. Kane suggested.