KeyCorp has tapped the head of a money management firm it acquired last year to develop an integrated approach to serving wealthy customers.

William G. Spears, named this week as group executive for asset management, will oversee a push by the Cleveland-based banking company to blend its private banking, wealth management, and corporate banking departments.

By harnessing its services this way, the bank hopes to double its managed assets to $100 billion in about four years, said KeyCorp vice chairman Henry L. Meyer 3d. He said the bank, which now handles $47 billion in mutual funds, trusts, pensions, and other managed accounts, wants to hit that "ambitious target" soon after 2000.

Mr. Spears will report to Mr. Meyer.

Industry observers said the bank was sending a strong message by appointing a seasoned entrepreneur to the top asset management job.

"It sounds like KeyCorp recognizes investment management as a core business, and not just an ancillary product to stem disintermediation," said John Shields, a consultant with Cerulli Associates, Boston.

Mr. Spears' firm, Spears, Benzak Salomon & Farrell, managed about $4 billion in assets for wealthy clients when it became a subsidiary of KeyCorp last year.

"We're making a concerted effort to look and feel and act like an investment management company," Mr. Spears said in a telephone interview.

Mr. Spears said he's "delighted and - even somewhat surprised - that senior management has gravitated to this so quickly," given banks' reputation as slow-moving bureaucracies.

Increasingly, banks are recruiting executives from mutual fund and money-management firms to help them run their asset-management businesses. In the process, they are trying to meld divisions that manage trust assets, offer investment advice, and manage mutual funds. Notable examples include First Union Corp. and Barnett Banks Inc.

"You have someone who becomes the in-house guru on investment management, who sits at the right hand of the chairman," said Herbert Hunt, managing partner of Boston-based H.I. Hunt & Co., an executive recruiting firm. "The bank management can say to their customers, 'Look who we've brought in. This shows you how committed we are to the business.'"

KeyCorp turned to Mr. Spears because it wanted to combine a fragmented sales force of hundreds of employees, Mr. Meyer explained.

"We would find that a customer received two sales calls in a month from different KeyCorp entities," Mr. Meyer said. "In more cases than not, the customer said, 'Do these guys know what they're doing?'"

Under KeyCorp's structure, Mr. Spears will oversee top executives such as Christopher Maxwell, who manages the bank's Victory Funds and KeyFunds. Added to Mr. Maxwell's duties is developing new products, in particular new mutual fund portfolios.

Also reporting to Mr. Spears are Richard J. Buoncore and Gary R. Martzolf. Mr. Buoncore will help Mr. Spears develop business plans for the bank's investment management subsidiaries and oversee their legal and human resources departments.

Mr. Martzolf will manage sales of investments through the private bank, wealth management, and corporate banking departments.

Mr. Spears said he is trying to build "the entrepreneurial characteristics" of a successful investment management firm. "That means less hierarchy and more of a sense of partnership," he said.

Experts say it won't be easy. "Asset management firms are an entrepreneurial culture, and banks are not," said Bruce Brewington, equity analyst at Putnam Lovell & Thornton, a San Francisco investment bank. Often, he said, money managers don't "mesh with the bank overlords who want them to do it the bank way, the bureaucratic way."

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