First National Bank of Ohio is expanding its role as both a seller and a manager of mutual funds.

The Akron-based bank, which currently manages just a single money market mutual fund with $60 million of assets, intends to launch an equity fund by year-end, according to regulatory filings.

And to round out its fund offerings, the bank plans to place its Portage Funds label on up to four additional portfolios, which are managed by Federated Investors, Pittsburgh, said Greg Bean, senior trust officer at First National.

New Subsidiary

The $2.5 billion-asset bank, the lead unit of Akron-based First Bancorporation of Ohio, plans to market the proprietary funds and other investments through a brokerage subsidiary, FBOH Investors Services Inc., which was formed in February.

Mr. Bean said the mutual fund sales effort will hit First National branches by Aug. 15, when the bank plans to open 10 brokerage outlets, dubbed the New Point Investment Centers, in bank branches.

Essex Corp., a New York-based investment products marketing company, has been tapped to assist with the sales push. The company will hire brokers who are licensed to sell both annuities and mutual funds, Mr. Bean said.

"We want a single sales rep to be able to meet our customers' financial needs by offering both products." he said.

The investment centers program will be expanded to First National's affiliate banks early next year, he added. "By the first quarter. we will have 25 sales reps in all of our affiliates."

The investment centers will be located "in high customer-traffic areas" at selected branches, he added.

The bank's plans to establish a diversified equity mutual fund are awaiting approval from the Securities and Exchange Commission. Assuming it is granted, the fund could be launched by yearend, Mr. Bean said. The fund will be created by reorganizing trust assets, he said.

Though the slump in the stock and bond markets has taken its toll on mutual fund sales at some banks, he noted at First National, "we've seen an increase in mutual fund activity."

And the down market hasn't dampened the bank's interest in expanding its presence in the mutual fund business. "We feel to be a player you have to offer these products," Mr. Bean said.

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