Great Western Financial Corp. has split its retail brokerage from its proprietary mutual fund unit and hired a veteran executive to oversee the newly independent bank brokerage.

James H. Overholt, 48, was named president and chief executive of Great Western Financial Securities Corp., the thrift's broker- dealer, effective Tuesday.

The growing size and importance of the investment product unit within the thrift holding company spurred the move, bank executives said.

"Great Western has a number of very good businesses," including investment products, said A. William Schenck 3d, executive vice president with Great Western Financial Corp. "But the opportunity to take them to a higher level of income contribution is dependent on getting management focus."

Mr. Overholt succeeds F. Brian Cerini as head of the thrift's brokerage, which has 303 brokers spread among 420 offices throughout California and Florida. Mr. Cerini will remain chief executive of Great Western Investment Management, the thift's proprietary mutual fund unit. Both men will report to Mr. Schenck.

Mr. Cerini will concentrate on increasing sales of Great Western's $3.2 billion-asset Sierra Trust fund family through national brokerages and financial planners, Mr. Schenck said.

Mr. Overholt left his job as president of Atlanta-based Bank South Corp.'s brokerage to join the $44 billion-asset thrift holding company, based in Chatsworth, Calif. From 1990 to 1994, Mr. Overholt was managing director of Wachovia Corp.'s broker-dealer, based in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Mr. Overholt cited Great Western's "tremendous franchise" as a prime reason for his move from Atlanta to Los Angeles.

"Great Western has more customers for retail securities than any other bank-affiliated broker-dealer in the country," he said.

Great Western sells mutual funds, annuities, stocks and bonds in 420 branches in California and Florida.

Last December, NationsBank Corp., Charlotte, N.C. received Federal Reserve Bank approval to acquire Bank South Corp.

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