To reach prospective Japanese investment customers, First Union Corp.'s Evergreen mutual fund family is tapping the resources of its international commercial bank.

Instead of hooking up with another company, Evergreen is asking its international banking division for an entree to Japan, where it is sending a fund sales manager next month. The 30-year-old division was built by CoreStates Financial Corp., which First Union bought in April.

"We do not want to be held to an individual relationship with one firm in Japan," said William Ennis, chief operating officer of First Union's capital management group and president of its Evergreen mutual funds.

The Charlotte, N.C., banking company is quick on the heels of several U.S. investment managers already setting up in Japan-typically through alliances with Japanese institutions. The attraction is a slew of legislative changes, nicknamed the "big bang," that took effect Dec. 1.

A major provision lets foreign companies market directly to consumers. Japanese banks and insurance companies can also sell mutual funds.

These changes spurred several partnerings between Japanese and U.S. institutions, including Fidelity Investments and 23 Japanese banks, J.P. Morgan & Co. and Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank Ltd., and Putnam Investments and Nissay Asset Management Co.

First Union's Tokyo representative office, which has three managers and a staff of 12, delivers correspondent banking services to 100 banks. Thirty-five bankers in its branch there conduct trade finance, said Michael P. Heavener, a First Union executive vice president and head of the international division.

"We can provide our colleagues from the Evergreen side access to the decision-makers," Mr. Heavener said. "Our long history in the correspondent banking business will help jump-start this Evergreen initiative."

First Union hopes to distinguish itself in Japan by pointing to its success in selling funds to bank customers.

"Evergreen had penetrated its client base with mutual fund sales more than any other commercial bank," Mr. Heavener said.

In April, First Union plans to unveil Evergreen Worldwide, a new family of funds for non-U.S. investors that will be similar in strategy to Evergreen's 75 portfolios. Evergreen Worldwide funds will also be pitched to the Latin American clients of First Union's international private banking division, which is based in Miami.

Overseas distribution will help Evergreen meet a goal of having $100 billion under management by the end of 2000, Mr. Ennis said. The fund family now manages $71 billion.

Evergreen's operation in Tokyo is led by Joseph Klauzar, director of Evergreen Far East sales. Mr. Klauzar, who spent the past two and a half years with Evergreen as a regional sales manager in Texas, is fluent in Japanese. Three to five wholesalers will join him over the next 18 months.

U.S. fund companies must get into Japan early to establish their brands, observers said.

"They'll be the brands that will survive, even when the Japanese develop their own proprietary products," said Kenneth R. Hoffman, president of Optima Group Inc., an investment management consulting firm based in Fairfield, Conn.

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