Though First of America is likely to set the pace for National City Corp.'s mutual fund business, it would conform to National City's mold when it comes to serving wealthy customers.

Under chief executive David Daberko, Cleveland-based National City has been aggressively building its private client business, which manages about $21.9 billion of assets, approximately half of the $42 billion under management companywide.

Just last month, National City announced plans to acquire Sterling Ltd., a local investment boutique for the well-heeled. Sterling's approach to the business, which emphasizes financial plans and sophisticated investments, was set to become the model for National City's private client group.

National City's deal for First of America has not changed those plans, a spokesman said. National City executive vice president Jeffrey M. Biggar and John Burns, the principal of Sterling, will be co- managers of the merged bank's private client group, he said.

National City and Kalamazoo, Mich.-based First of America differ slightly in their approaches to wealthy customers.

Nat City last year integrated lending with trust and investment management for affluent clients to create a unified wealth management group.

First of America's trust and financial services group has about $20 billion under management overall, $6 billion of which is for individual investors. Headed by executive vice president John Rapp, the group encompasses trust, mutual funds, brokerage, securities, and insurance. But lending to private clients is handled by another part of the company.

Observers say it is not unusual for the larger bank to bring its style to a merger partner's most affluent customers.

"What seems to be the pattern here is the acquirer looks at the acquiree as a distribution opportunity," said Norman R. Lubin, chief executive officer of FMS Consulting, a Blue Bell, Pa.-based company that advises banks on merger integration issues in the asset management business.

Mr. Lubin recommends that merger partners work quickly to integrate their operations, but take caution to maintain each partner's strength.

"It's all phased in over time," Mr. Lubin said. "The last thing anyone wants to do is disrupt clients, because you are acquiring revenue that is attached to those clients."

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