Growing up on the rough-and-tumble streets of New York taught George Bernard Jr. a few lessons about being assertive and making the best of tough situations.

That background is serving him well as he steers PNC Bank Corp.'s mutual funds through volatile markets and cutthroat competition.

In fact, Mr. Bernard said, his scrappy attitude propelled him through the ranks of the mutual fund elite at Pittsburgh-based PNC.

At the beginning of this month, Mr. Bernard was named senior vice president of PNC's brokerage and manager of its proprietary PNC Funds. He will add marketing of the funds to his responsibilities.

"We're going to be very aggressive this year," Mr. Bernard said in a recent telephone interview. "We're not going for easy sales but trying to forge new relationships."

Mr. Bernard is an old hand at building business. He was hired by the bank company in 1992 to help start up the PNC Funds, and since then, the funds have grown to more than $5 billion of assets under management. He also co-founded Closed Enders, the country's first unit investment trust trading organization.

After a successful 15-year stint on Wall Street, Mr. Bernard said he relished the idea of working on a bank's mutual fund program.

"My belief is there's opportunity with banks because they have an edge in distribution," Mr. Bernard said.

He explained that a bank's branch network is a perfect selling platform for mutual funds. But he added that large regional bank companies like PNC "are ahead of the curve because we have the experience in manufacturing (investment) products as well as distributing them."

The biggest challenge for Mr. Bernard so far has been educating his bank-based investment sales force about financial markets.

Shaky markets have spooked many mutual fund investors, and Mr. Bernard said sales representatives have not done a good enough job of allaying customers' fears.

"This year, we're going to upgrade our marketing material to educate customers," Mr. Bernard said.

PNC will also make a big push to market its retail mutual fund asset allocation service, dubbed Capital Directions, which the bank unveiled last fall.

As a veteran of Wall Street, Mr. Bernard said, he's well prepared to ride out volatility caused by the recent spate of interest rate increases. He pointed back to an even more turbulent period - the late 1970s, when Paul Volcker, then chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, raised short-term interest rates rapidly to record heights.

The increases "turned the fixed-income market on its ear," he said. "It's the only time I lost money while on the job.

"But it didn't bother me that much," Mr. Bernard added. "I'm one of those people that lives to work, not works to live."

Looking down the road, Mr. Bernard said, he sees continued consolidation in the mutual funds industry, especially as banks feel the rising costs of both managing and selling proprietary investment products.

"Banks are going to have to ask themselves whether they want to really be in this business," he said. "And only the ones that can add more value to a customer's banking relationship are going to survive."

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