The investment banks involved in the $12.31 billion merger between Wells Fargo and Co. and First Interstate Bancorp dominated the top spots in first-quarter rankings of bank and thrift acquisitions advisers.

Goldman, Sachs & Co. and Montgomery Securities, both working on Wells Fargo's behalf, took the first and second spots, with $12.837 billion and $12.463 billion in deals respectively.

With their work as advisers to First Interstate, CS First Boston Corp. and Morgan Stanley & Co. tied for third.

But aside from that deal, it was a slow quarter for the M&A advisers. Indeed, half of the buyers in the top 12 deals of the quarter did not use outside advisers, reflecting both the smaller deal size and the relative lack of complexity.

"The trend is the same as that for using advisers that I've seen in using merger-and-acquisition attorneys," said John P.C. Duncan, an attorney in the Chicago office of Jones Day Reavis & Pogue. "For routine deals, experienced buyers do a lot more of their deals in-house than they used to."

To be sure, some investment bankers said that it is not uncommon for big banks to use their own acquisition team.

Indeed, J. Richard Fredericks, senior managing director and head of the financial services group at Montgomery Securities, said that the top 50 banks used advisers for less than one in four acquisitions between 1990 and 1995.

In the ninth-largest deal of the year, NationsBank Corp. did not use an adviser for its acquisition of Charter Bancshares.

"We usually do not find the need to have outside advisers," said Charles P. Welch, a senior vice president on NationsBank's mergers and advisory team.

All of the sellers in the top dozen deals announced in the first quarter opted to use outside advisers.

"People sell once, they buy a lot," Mr. Duncan said. "If I'm a seller, for legal and practical reasons, I would expect to have an adviser."

Goldman edged out the other contenders for the top spot for advising, among others, US Bancorp in its $328 million acquisition of California Bancorp., the fourth-largest deal of the quarter, and Hubco Inc. in its $137 million purchase of Lafayette American Bank and Trust Co., the eighth- largest of the quarter.

Montgomery became the quarterly runner-up by advising Western Bank in its sale to Monarch Bancorp, as well as advising both the buyer and the seller in Home Interstate Bancorp's acquisition of CU Bancorp. In the latter, relatively unusual, situation, both sides are using other advisers to provide fairness opinions, said SNL Securities.

Merrill Lynch ranked fifth, with a total of $1.393 billion in deals. The investment bank advised on four deals, including Fleet Financial Group's acquisition of Fleet Banking Group; Firstar Corp.'s purchase of American Bancorp; Primerit Bank's sale to Norwest Corp.; and One Valley Bancorp of West Virginia's acquisition of CSB Financial Corp. in Virginia.

While the activity level was down for the quarter, investment bankers expect continued consolidation.

"The forces which led to the activity in 1995 remain in place at the moment," said J. Christopher Flowers, director of Goldman's financial institutions group. "We expect a lot more activity before the year is over.

"There's low activity this first quarter mostly because banks are still consolidating all the activity from 1995," Mr. Flowers added. "This is a period of digestion."

Mr. Fredericks agreed, calling this a "pause in the trend. The country is still vastly overbanked," he said.

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