By moving the core of its asset management group to St. Louis, NationsBank Corp. is preparing to leverage the strength of Boatmen's Bancshares in that business.

Charlotte, N.C.-based NationsBank is known for barreling into new markets with aggressive transition teams that swiftly erase the identity of its acquired companies. But when it comes to combining with Boatmen's, the banking behemoth is being careful to keep the St. Louis company's prized asset management business intact.

In the personal trust area, for instance, Boatmen's Trust Co. would continue to operate under its own name, led by its current chief, Martin E. "Sandy" Galt.

Mr. Galt is to be joined in the high ranks of the combined bank's asset management group by several other Boatmen's executives. John Morton, president of the St. Louis bank, is slated to head private banking, the seat of all of the new bank's activities for the wealthy market.

NationsBank is not known for making such hefty concessions to its acquired banks. When it bought Baltimore's Maryland National Corp., a powerhouse in its local trust market, it quickly replaced Maryland's personnel with its own.

Some outsiders speculate that in Boatmen's case, the asset management shift to St. Louis was worked out by the company before it agreed to the deal with NationsBank.

"It was part of the acquisition negotiations," said Charles B. Wendel, president of Financial Institutions Consulting in New York. "It could be they believe Boatmen's has a better investment group."

With $44 billion in assets under management, Boatmen's Trust is considered one of its parent's crown jewels. When it combines with NationsBank's unit, the sheer magnitude of the resulting entity - $111 billion under management in personal trust and institutional asset management accounts as well as proprietary mutual funds - should make it a major-leaguer on a national playing field, observers said.

"There really is an advantage to size, because it gives them more clout in distribution," said Jane Jelenko, the partner in charge of KPMG Peat Marwick's investment services consulting group. She added that the new asset management group can spread operating expenses across a broader base of revenue.

While NationsBank's business is larger, Boatmen's asset management business is well entrenched in the 10 Midwestern states it serves. That compelled NationsBank to shift the business to St. Louis, observers said.

Of course, NationsBank is not ceding all control to Boatmen's. Both Mr. Galt and Mr. Morton are to report to Owen "Bob" Shell, most recently president of NationsBank-Tennessee. Mr. Shell has been chosen to head the entire St. Louis-based asset management group.

NationsBank veterans scheduled to serve under him are John Munce, who is to remain in Charlotte as an asset management executive, and David W. Fisher, who would head a new unit in St. Louis, NationsBank Trust.

A NationsBank spokeswoman called St. Louis "an attractive market and a good place to build on the strengths of both companies in terms of what we have in asset management." She added that in trust, NationsBank plans to keep both its own and Boatmen's name "because both are valuable."

But Mr. Wendel, while acknowledging the value of the Boatmen's name, said, "I can't imagine this isn't short term."

In addition to relocation, NationsBank's asset management team is losing some key figures. Hugh Chapman, an architect of its asset management and private client groups, will retire in mid-1997. And James B. Sommers, one of the builders of its international investment capability, will become a strategic planning executive in retail banking.

Another NationsBank trust executive, J. Tim Arnoult, is slated to become president of Dallas-based NationsBank Southwest, a general banking division.

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