The planned acquisition of a local investment firm would almost triple Boston Private Bancorp's assets under management, to $2.2 billion.

The 10-year-old banking company last week announced plans to buy Westfield Capital Management Inc. in a pooling-of-interests transaction. The move by Boston Private-whose lead bank has only $288.9 million of assets-demonstrates that significant money management acquisitions are not only for giants.

"We weren't necessarily looking to take such a big step," said Timothy L. Vaill, president of Boston Private. "When we saw their ability and reputation, size didn't really matter."

He said the deal would boost fee income to 50% of 1997 revenues, from an estimated 30%. In 1996 the bank's fee and other noninterest income was close to $4 million, and net interest income was $9.2 million.

Boston Private Bank and Trust has split its focus when investing clients' assets between large capital equity and fixed-income securities. Westfield's forte is investing in small and mid-cap stocks.

Boston-based Westfield would keep its name and operate as an autonomous subsidiary of the banking company. It manages $1.3 billion of assets for wealthy clients, corporate pension funds, endowments, and foundations. Boston Private manages $850 million of assets.

Similar client bases of wealthy individuals and small institutions triggered an immediate mutual attraction between the partners.

"This is not a banking company as one would perceive it," said C. Michael Hazard, who founded Westfield in 1989. "We hope to build this organization more as a fee-based than an ordinary banking business."

The deal is expected to close Oct. 15. Westfield shareholders would receive 3.92 million shares of newly issued Boston Private stock. The company's average stock price this year through April 13 was $6.12.

Though it is a big bite for a little bank, Mr. Vaill said the acquisition of Westfield "will be accretive this year, providing they make their historical targets."

With the boost, Mr. Vaill and Walter M. Pressey, chief financial officer of the bank, expect to make about $12 million of investment management revenue in 1997. Adding interest income, they are predicting $25 million in revenue for the bank this year.

The deal "raises their profile immeasurably," said John S. Carusone, president of Bank Analysis Center, a Hartford, Conn., investment bank. "It gives them size and scale to be a significant player in the investment advisory business."

The Westfield deal coincides with a spurt of money management acquisitions by U.S. banks. This month alone, J.P. Morgan & Co. announced its plans to acquire American Century, and Fleet Financial Group said it would buy Columbia Management Co.

Indeed, Westfield was courted by a parade of suitors.

"You name it, they've been in here: every conceivable acquirer, with cash deals and other gimmicks, from UAM (United Asset Management) on down," Mr. Hazard said Thursday.

"I will be 66 in four days," he said. "Everyone knows there is an old, tired guy running this company-although I don't think that.

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