Marine Midland Funds Go Retail

An affiliate of Marine Midland Banks Inc. is expanding its family of mutual funds and making its push into the retail market.

The unit, Marinvest Inc., recently introduced an international equity fund and plans to add several more to its seven Mariner funds in coming months.

Until recently, the New York-based company marketed its funds only to bank trust departments, collecting $1.2 billion in assets under management. Now it is offering them through MarineEdge, the retail investment sales network of Marine Midland.

"I think it's a fantastic opportunity," said Richard J. Loos, managing director of mutual fund services for Marinvest. "We're just really pushing the retail side now."

Mutual Fund Pioneer

Buffalo-based Marine Midland became one of the first banks to offer its own mutual funds in 1982. Last year, it transferred Marinvest to its parent company, Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp.

The unit's new retail strategy echoes moves by many other institutions. Citicorp, for one, is heavily promoting its Landmark funds through its Citibank branch network.

"Everybody wants a piece of the retail public's pockets," said Brewster Ellis, vice president of Robert Thomas Securities Inc. of St. Petersburg, Fla.

Under an agreement with MarineEdge, Cigna Corp. has financial counselors who travel to Marine Midland branches and sell mutual funds and other investment products to consumers. The Cigna representatives have now added Mariner funds to their offerings.

To bolster sales, Marine Midland will encourage branch referrals and will occasionally insert brochures on the funds in monthly account statements.

Focus on the Affluent

Mr. Loos said he hopes the addition of international funds will allow Marinvest to leverage its parent's global franchise and familiarity with foreign markets.

On the retail front, Mariner funds are aimed primarily at affluent individuals, who are considered more likely to invest overseas than the mass market.

Mr. Loos said the company would not ignore its trust business. He called both retail and institutional customers "crucial for our success."

International Specialty

At its peak, Marine Midland worked with trust departments at 30 banks to market its funds. As more banks have added their own funds, Marinvest's base has dwindled to about 20 institutions.

Mr. Loos said his unit will emphasize to other banks "funds that we can provide that they would have a difficult time offering themselves, such as international funds."

Leo J. Dolan Jr., senior vice president in charge of marketing at SEI Corp., a Wayne, Pa.-based distributor of bank proprietary funds, said: "I think everybody is thinking along the same lines, looking at the trust base, but also looking at the retail network."

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