Shawmut National Corp. is the latest of a handful of banks to offer a way to invest in Israel through a family of mutual funds.
The banking company, which has headquarters in Boston and Hartford, Conn., announced last week that it will begin selling the Israeli Opportunities Fund through an investment program endorsed by B'nai B'rith, an international Jewish service organization.
The Israeli Opportunities Fund invests primarily in the stock of Israeli-based companies and is managed by Bank Leumi le Israel B.M., Tel Aviv, and Tremont Partners, Rye, N.Y.
Shawmut is also offering the B'nai B'rith Leadership Trust family of funds, which are managed and administered by Bankers Trust, and underwritten and distributed by BankMark, Morris Plains, N.J.
Shawmut executives first heard about the fund program through its association with BankMark, which helps the bank sell annuities in Connecticut.
"This marks the first time that Shawmut has worked with an affinity group to bring out a new product," said Robert Shurman, senior vice president in charge of retail investment sales.
Mr. Shurman says the new investments are a "good opportunity for us to be involved in the community" and give the bank "innumerable opportunities to cross-sell" other bank products and services.
The Leadership Trust funds consist of global equity, asset management, short/intermediate government bond, tax-free bond, and capital appreciation portfolios, as well as a U.S. Treasury money fund, a money market fund, and a tax-fee money fund.
Affinity groups have garnered a lot of attention from banks and mutual fund companies recently, said Glen Casey, a consultant at Cerulli Associates, Boston. The sellers, he said, are looking for new ways to stand out in an increasingly crowded market.
"This is a niche market that's been untapped by banks," said Mr. Casey. "And an affinity group's stamp of approval gives an exclusivity to the product."
Banks that offer the B'nai B'rith funds have exclusive rights to sell in their markets, a spokeswoman for BankMark said. Only four other banks offer the funds, but the spokeswoman said that more will come aboard early this year.