When KeyCorp launched its separate account product, it already had a group of high-net-worth customers ready to buy in.

The Table Pounders portfolio, unveiled last week, invests in up to 20 securities the bank research department deems particularly undervalued. It is not for the fiscally challenged: to buy shares in the product, investors must have $750,000 under management at the bank or a net worth of $1.5 million. They also need to pony up $250,000 to get in the door.

Richard J. Buoncore, chief executive of Key Asset Management, and several Key executives have invested $13 million of the initial $15 million in the portfolio. “We think it speaks volumes putting our capital in,” Mr. Buoncore said, noting that this is the first time Key’s executives have taken such an approach.

Selling the idea to management and those individuals who bought in was not tough despite the market volatility, Mr. Buoncore said. The name, however, was a different matter.

“A lot of people didn’t like the name, but I stuck to my guns,” Mr. Buoncore said.

Mr. Buoncore is nothing if not vocal about his hopes and expectations for KeyCorp’s asset management business. In 1998 he stated a goal to reach $50 billion in mutual fund assets under management within five years. The banking company still has some wood to chop to meet that mark, currently boasting only $21 billion of fund assets out of a total of $76 billion of assets managed.

But Mr. Buoncore said he is undeterred and that, despite the difficult market conditions last year, mutual fund assets at the bank are up roughly 31% from three years ago. The fee income earned from the asset management business is also on the rise and last year accounted for 10% of total pretax income at the banking company — up from roughly 6% in 1997, he said.

Next on his agenda is to unify KeyCorp’s brands within the asset management unit. These include several names from acquisitions over the years, among them the Gradison Funds, inherited when KeyCorp bought McDonald & Co., a local investment banking company, in 1998.

The various names can be confusing, Mr. Buoncore said, noting that Merrill Lynch & Co. recently declared the bank’s Victory Funds among the top five on their brokers’ distribution list, but in publicizing the list, the wrong name — Key Asset Management Funds — was given. Mr. Buoncore said the branding issue will be addressed by May 1.

KeyCorp has said it wants to boost the fees generated by investment banking and asset management, said Jennifer Thompson, an analyst with Putnam, Lovell Securities in New York. Fees currently account for 40% of its income, and KeyCorp is looking to increase that to 50% over the next few years, she said.

The bank has gone through a lot of restructuring in the past few years, recently naming its president, Henry L. Meyer 3d, to succeed chief executive Robert W. Gillespie, who is retiring in May.

“Certainly he knows the company,” Ms. Thompson said. “He’s been with KeyCorp some time.”

And the bank seems to be focusing on the right things, she said.

Whether it succeeds is another matter, Ms. Thompson said. “Only time will tell.”

KeyCorp manages just north of $37 billion for wealthy investors, and the new product is a way of giving them the chance to buy into a potentially good story, Mr. Buoncore said. The name comes from analysts’ tendency to pound the table at the morning meetings when they are talking about a company they believe to be a “screaming buy,” he said.

For example, in the initial investment KeyCorp bought shares of Textron, an aviation and automotive company, which has stock down significantly from two years ago, but has shown good earnings growth. FleetBoston Financial Group is also part of the initial investment, thanks to its novel efforts to deal with credit quality issues. However, there is only one technology name in the portfolio, Mr. Buoncore said.


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