In late December, when Mellon Bank Corp. announced it was acquiring a pension benefits consulting business, the move did not get the attention many recent bank mergers have received.

But W. Keith Smith, vice chairman and head of Mellon's trust and investment services, ranks the acquisition of Buck Consultants Inc. as one of the most important the bank has made in recent years. He compares it to the much-ballyhooed purchases of Boston Co. and Dreyfus Corp., two companies that gave Pittsburgh-based Mellon a sizable presence in mutual fund and custodial trust services.

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