Massachusetts Financial Services is building a corps of regional vice presidents in an effort to crack the bank trust department market.

In August the Boston mutual fund company hired Tanya Vaughn, an executive from Fidelity Investments' institutional trust business, to help build trust relationships in Texas and the surrounding region.

A month earlier it had hired James Polito, a wholesaler from Federated Investors, to be a regional vice president working out of North Carolina.

And it had hired another Federated wholesaler, Glen Puntil, in February to work out of Pennsylvania.

MFS is seeking to fill another two such posts within about a month, said Lisa Jones, who heads bank sales for the company.

The fund company is building its trust sales effort at a deliberate pace. It hired Michael Fitzgerald in September 1996 to head the business. He was previously a regional vice president at Federated, where he had worked nine years.

Early this year the company, which has about $50 billion of assets under management, introduced a no-load share class designed to be sold through trust departments. Its efforts are aimed at trust companies and law firms that handle trust business, as well as at banks' trust units.

MFS' trust sales are tiny compared with its sales through bank retail brokerages, which the company expects to be around $3 billion this year, Ms. Jones said. But trust sales could eventually bring billions of dollars of assets under management, she said.

The company has its work cut out for it as it tries to become a player in the bank trust business. This area is dominated by Federated, which has $55 billion of trust assets under management, and a few other entrenched companies.

"I respect what MFS is trying to do," said Kenneth Hoffman, president of Optima Group, a consulting firm in Fairfield, Conn. "I just think it's very tough."

Hiring seasoned veterans of respected companies such as Federated and Fidelity should help, he said.

MFS has signed sales agreements with 80 bank trust departments this year, Ms. Jones said, and about 20 of those are actively selling the company's funds.

She declined to name the banks that have agreed to offer MFS products through their trust departments, but suggested that smaller banks may be the company's doorway into the business.

"I think there is more immediate opportunity in some trust departments that may not have a strong proprietary (fund) initiative on the bank side," she said.

Because of competitive pressures, most fund companies cannot succeed by simply selling products through trust departments. They must offer back- office services, marketing support, or other so-called value-added services.

MFS is trying to make a name for itself in "heritage planning." Its program aims to help trust departments meet the needs of baby boomers who need to provide financial help both for their parents and children.

To do this, it offers a range of financial planning information and guidance, including referrals to experts in everything from day care to house hunting.

In addition to hiring regional trust executives, MFS created a wholesaling region in the Northwest and in late August hired Trista Bouchard to be its vice president.

MFS opened the Northwest sales division to devote more attention to Washington Mutual Inc., BankAmerica Corp., and Wells Fargo & Co. The BankAmerica and Wells relationships were begun this year.

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