Contrary to those who advocate spinning off business lines to enhance shareholder value, J. Christopher Flowers and Milton R. Berlinski believe big conglomerates do well for the shareholders over the long haul. While acknowledging that some spinoffs have served shareholders well - notably the recent spinoff of Signet Banking Corp.'s credit card unit - the two investment bankers argue that a mix of businesses produces the steady growth in earnings that investors seek in a banking company. As key players in Goldman, Sachs & Co.'s bank merger and acquisition team, the two could have a profound influence on the wave of mergers that is reshaping the industry. Goldman represented First Fidelity Bancorp. in its announced $5.4 billion sale in June to First Union Corp., the largest bank sale in history. It has been retained by Chase Manhattan Corp. as an adviser, as that bank faces pressure from shareholders to spin off businesses. Chase has reportedly been in talks with Chemical Banking Corp. on what would be a blockbuster deal.

Goldman also is representing Bank of Boston Corp. in that company's tortuous attempts to find a merger partner. With more than six senior people focusing on banks, and 80 people in the financial institutions group, Goldman has one of the preeminent groups on Wall Street. It was the number one bank M&A adviser last year, and ranks second for the first half of this year.

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