CHESTERFIELD, Mo. - As an avid trout fisherman, Thomas Soltis knows the value of patience.

That virtue has come in handy as Mr. Soltis - the head of Roosevelt Financial Group's brokerage operation - has had to continually mold his unit to keep up with the thrift's recent spate of acquisitions.

Roosevelt, by acquiring a slew of smaller financial institutions, has quadrupled in size over the past five years - to $8.4 billion of assets. And in the process, Mr. Soltis has quietly transformed his corner of the thrift from a small fixed-annuity marketer to a full-service brokerage.

"We're trying to be similar to a securities company," said Mr. Soltis, speaking in his office on the outskirts of St. Louis.

Indeed, Mr. Soltis' lofty ambitions are consistent with those of Roosevelt, which aims to be a dominant financial services player in Missouri.

Last year alone, the thrift doubled its asset size through two major acquisitions: $533 million-asset Home Federal Bancorporation of Missouri and $3.1 billion-asset Farm and Home Financial Corp.

In marketing mutual funds and other investments to an expanded customer base, the 45-year-old brokerage chief has had to contend with challenges of hiring and then training more than 20 new brokers.

He has also had to sort through a number of competing marketing firms that the acquired institutions had been using in an effort to winnow down the list to one - CoreLink Resources.

And Mr. Soltis' work is hardly over. In October, Roosevelt also purchased another Missouri savings bank, $26 million-asset WSB Bancorp. And the bank expects its pending acquisition of Kirksville Federal Savings Bank to close at the end of this month.

The acquisitions come at a time when Mr. Soltis must fight to keep Roosevelt's branch offices focused on selling nondeposit investment products such as mutual funds and annuities.

Often, even his best sales people fret when they are asked by branch presidents to help with a drive to boost production of certificates of deposit. "They lose their eyebrows from changing hats so much," Mr. Soltis.

As a result, he has begun reassigning 110 platform sales representatives who have been splitting their time between selling securities and traditional bank products. As a result, about 56 of them will focus exclusively on selling mutual funds and annuities.

Mr. Soltis plans to add 20 more brokers to focus on securities, resulting in a staff of 76 investment reps. The brokers will report to 11 investment sales managers hired last year to oversee mutual fund sales at the bank's 78 branches.

Sales of mutual funds, annuities, and insurance continue to increase with operating income tripling over two years to $6.5 million in 1994.

Mr. Soltis is overseeing the transformation of his brokerage unit in an office park about 10 miles outside St. Louis proper. Many of his brokerage's largest rivals are situated nearby. Every day from his desk, he gazes upon the offices of Merrill Lynch & Co. and American Express Financial Advisers.

"I welcome competition," Mr. Soltis says. He can afford to shrug off the competitive threat since his unit contributed 4.3%, or $5.9 million, to the thrift's third-quarter operating income.

Indeed brokerage unit profits for 1994 doubled from 1992, according to Roosevelt's annual report.

Upon hearing the contribution the brokerage unit makes to the bottom line, consultant Geoffrey Bobroff said "That's shocking."

Mr. Bobroff said that bank brokerages generally contribute far less to the bottom line at most banks, given the expenses of hiring investment marketing firms and paying sales commissions.

The results have pleased Roosevelt's president and chief executive, Stanley Bradshaw. He sees his competition getting the jitters. At a social reception in Hannibal, Mo., Mr. Bradshaw said, a sales manager of a big- name brokerage called Roosevelt his "toughest competition."

Mr. Soltis expects his brokerage to be even tougher with the help of CoreLink Resources. He believes the Concord, Calif., firm offers more innovative technologies than its rivals. CoreLink is a subsidiary of Bisys Group, which provides technology services to financial institutions.

Before the CoreLink contract, the thrift had been using two broker- dealers for more than a year. Roosevelt had been using Trimerica Securities Corp., and picked up Wall Street Investor Services from the Farm and Home acquisition.

The thrift kept both companies on for a year, because Mr. Soltis didn't want to disrupt service until he finished an exhaustive search for a new one. "We wanted to have a fresh look at what broker-dealer services were available out there," he said.

Mr. Soltis reviewed proposals from 55 companies before settling on CoreLink in October. "Many other companies have technology plans on the drawing board, but we were looking for someone to deliver service right now," he said.

CoreLink keeps records of all bank customers' mutual fund accounts and financial information, which brokers can access via their laptop computers. The firm also provides daily transactions and consolidated statements for each customer.

Mr. Soltis also likes a software program CoreLink provides, that guides brokers through sales presentations. But what most attracted him to CoreLink was the company's focus on supporting bank brokerages. Other broker-dealer firms support brokerages and financial planners as well as banks.

Mr. Soltis has been molding the Roosevelt's investment products program since he took charge of it in 1984. He had come over from Phoenix Life Insurance in 1982 to sell life, health, and property and casualty policies for the thrift.

When Mr. Soltis came aboard, the only investment product was fixed annuities - sold by nine branch managers. Three years later the unit added mutual funds to its menu, and acquisitions of banks helped bring in new brokers.

In March of 1994, the thrift changed the unit's name from Roosevelt Financial Insurance Agency to Roosevelt Financial Services, reflecting the focus on full-service brokerage.

Mr. Soltis' boss, Mr. Bradshaw, says the brokerage chief's nonbank background gives him the edge over "S&L types."

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