Expanding its presence in the bank distribution market, Pioneer Group has reached an agreement to get its mutual funds on the preferred provider list at Amsouth Bancorp's retail brokerage.

The deal, struck last month with the Birmingham, Ala.-based bank, is the third important one this year for Pioneer, which manages more than $20 billion of assets.

In January, BankAmerica Corp., San Francisco, began offering Pioneer funds to wrap account clients. In May, Fleet Financial Group, Boston, added the fund company to its preferred provider list.

Boston-based Pioneer's sales through banks more than doubled through the first 10 months of this year compared with the same period last year, said Barry Knight, the head of the company's bank sales division. He would not divulge actual sales figures.

Last year Pioneer sold almost $3 billion in funds in the United States, and sales through banks accounted for about 10% of that, Mr. Knight said.

Mr. Knight said he wants bank sales to account for 15% of Pioneer's distribution within the next two years. The company's heavy advertising in publications aimed at banks attests to its hopes.

"They're really putting forth a big effort to get to be better known," said Kenneth Kehrer, a consultant in Princeton, N.J. "It's a broad-based visibility campaign."

Pioneer also has sponsored or co-sponsored bank brokerage industry forums, such as the Bank Securities Association's annual conference this past spring near San Diego.

Executives at Amsouth declined to say why they added Pioneer to their list. They also declined to give sales figures for the brokerage.

With 75 sales representatives, Amsouth appears to be a significant catch for Pioneer.

Pioneer launched its bank sales effort four years ago, when it hired Mr. Knight, who had held brokerage positions at Great Western, Barnett, and Empire of America.

It has been working to broaden its distribution to include more sales through banks and brokerages, in addition to its traditional intermediaries: financial planners and insurance companies.

About 100 banks actively sell Pioneer's funds; its biggest single distributor is Banco Popular de Puerto Rico, in San Juan.

Pioneer added two wholesalers in January, for a total of seven, and probably will add two more in the third quarter of 1999, Mr. Knight said.

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