FleetBoston Financial Corp. resolved one of its last merger-related issues this week when it announced it would spin off Fleet Equity Partners, one of its two venture capital units.
It was perhaps one of the more obvious branding decisions the combined bank has made since Fleet Financial Group and BankBoston Corp. merged last year. Fleet Equity Partners is the smaller, younger, more independent private equity business - a partnership controlled by FleetBoston and the firm's management. BancBoston Capital is a global, more established firm, and is tightly woven into the fabric of its parent bank, on which it relies for client leads and direct investment capital.
The units, each marketed as part of FleetBoston Financial, were creating confusion.
"We had two groups with two different philosophies," said Henrique de Campos Meirelles, FleetBoston's president of global banking and financial services. "That was kind of confusing some customers and some potential companies, and now we've made it clear."
Fleet Equity Partners has been renamed Navis Partners and will officially shed ownership ties to FleetBoston in August. There will be no financial implications for FleetBoston, which will retain the same ownership stakes in its funds but will no longer have control over the business.
Certainly, Fleet Equity might have gone solo even without the Fleet-BankBoston merger. But Mr. Meirelles, who heads all wholesale banking activities at FleetBoston, said the merger pressed the issue.
The move highlights the varying degrees of control commercial banks have exercised over their private equity units.
At one end of the spectrum is Chase Capital Partners, the $18 billion direct-investing unit of Chase Manhattan Corp. that was started in 1984 by investment bankers at Chemical Banking Corp., which later merged with Chase. Since its founding, Chase Capital has had close working ties to the rest of the company, particularly the corporate and investment banking group, to which it refers business and from which it gets leads about new companies.At the other end is Norwest Venture Capital, which includes a private equity group based in Minneapolis and a tech-oriented venture capital firm based in Palo Alto, Calif. Although the head of that unit reports directly to Richard Kovacevich, chief executive officer for Wells Fargo & Co., the bank has allowed the unit to function very independently.
BancBoston Capital has a "rather broad-based, somewhat opportunistic link into the financial institution," said Rick Fritz, president of BancBoston Capital and its affiliates. "We get about 15% of our deal flow from referrals generated by bank officers," he said.
BancBoston and Fleet Equity have a combined asset value of roughly $3.5 billion, Mr. Fritz said. BancBoston claims about two-thirds of that. In a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey of the first quarter, BancBoston tied with Chase Capital Partners for the highest number of investments, 45, said Kirk Walden, national director of venture capital research.
Mr. Fritz said BancBoston has had the luxury of not having to raise money, unlike Fleet Equity, which has always gotten only partial funding from FleetBoston.
The bank provides capital "through thick and thin," he said, allowing his employees to concentrate on the investing side.
Laura Mandaro contributed to this article.