H&R Block Inc. has reached into the banking sector for a leader for its Financial Services Group, the unit that is spearheading the tax preparation specialist's metamorphosis into a full-service financial provider.

David J. Kasper, executive vice president and national sales manager at Norwest Investment Services Inc., the brokerage unit of San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co., is to join H&R Block on Feb. 14 as president of the group.

In the newly created post at H&R Block, Mr. Kasper will be charged with pulling together a new and broader menu of financial offerings for the Kansas City, Mo., company.

That menu now includes access to brokerage and asset management services available at 95 sites around the nation thanks to the 1999 acquisitions of Olde Financial Corp., a discount brokerage operation, and the full-service broker Birchtree Financial Services Inc.

A deal with E-Loan, the Internet mortgage provider, struck just last month also gives H&R Block customers access to retail mortgage services.

Mr. Kasper, 47, said he was attracted by H&R Block's bid to sell investment services to a more middle-market investor - with a household income of $25,000 to $75,000 - than the market segment targeted by many banks.

"I come from a very humble background, and most banks are trying to serve the high-net-worth customer," said Mr. Kasper. However, he was quick to add that there are some banking companies that target a broader spectrum of investors, notably Wells Fargo, Citigroup Inc., and First Union Corp.

The sheer size of H&R Block's potential investor pool was also a draw, he said. The company plans to cross-sell investment services to the 16 million-plus customers that use its tax preparation services. " Do the math," said Mr. Kasper. "If we can cross-sell investment services to just a third of that number."

H&R Block's strategic concept is indicative of what is possible because of financial modernization, he added.

Mr. Kasper was reportedly not the only banker contacted about the job. According to Linda McDougall, a company spokeswoman, H&R Block looked at executives from banks, brokerages, and other financial services companies. In the end, Mr. Kasper was hired because of his long career in financial services, she said.

He began at Merrill Lynch & Co. 25 years ago but moved into bank brokerage in 1983, when he joined Milwaukee-based First Wisconsin Corp., now Firstar Corp., where he started the discount brokerage unit.

A 14-year Norwest veteran, Mr. Kasper was responsible for leading a 420-member sales force of financial consultants and investment specialists. David Skolnik, who headed Wells' brokerage sales and marketing for the western half of the nation, is to succeed Mr. Kasper at Milwaukee-based Norwest Investment Services. At H&R Block, Mr. Kasper is to report to Mark A. Ernst, president and chief operating officer.

Mike Mortensen, president and chief executive officer of PNC Brokerage Corp., a unit of PNC Bank Corp. of Pittsburgh, described H&R Block's decision to hire Mr. Kasper as "flattering to banks."

However, Mr. Mortensen said that it will continue to be easier for a bank to leverage a deposit relationship than for a company like H&R Block to cross-sell investments to customers they see only once a year.

"I don't see them as a big competitor; they have a big challenge getting people to look at them in a new way," he said.

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