Pennsylvania's Univest Corp. is one of the latest community banks to bow to customer demand for alternative investments and competition from area brokers.

The $800 million. asset banking company recently signed up Invest Financial Corp., Tampa, Fla., to manage a sales force of retail brokers in its two Pennsylvania subsidiaries, Union National Bank and Pennview Savings Bank.

Univest, Souderton, Pa., had planned to offer mutual funds and annuities to its customers for quite some time, said Marvin A. Anders, vice chairman.

The company made these investments available to complement its traditional deposit products, and to compete with local brokerage firms like Merrill Lynch & Co, and Dean Witter Discover & Co., Mr. Anders explained.

Univest has sold investments through its trust department for 50 years. But bank officials scutfled the idea of running their own retail brokerage.

The brokerage business is sufficiently different from trust for bank officials to figure they need outside help. Univest hired Invest after reviewing a handful of other third party marketing firms.

Among the challenges Univest didn't want to tackle on its own was learning how to sell investments to retail customers, and dealing with state regulations that bar Pennsylvania banks from selling insurance products.

"We needed to offer financial investments to our customers," said Mr. Anders. "But because of the size of our organization. we decided to go with Invest."

Signing on with an outside firm gave also gave Univest the opportunity to offer a wider variety of investment products to its customers.

"Through Invest, we are making available a wide range of quality services -and financial alternatives." said Merrill S. Moyer, the banking company's chairman and president.

Invest is one of the country's largest providers of mutual funds and annuities through banks. With the additions of the two Univest umts, InveSt has relationships with 240 financial institutions.

Though faced with a myriad of investment product marketers, Mr. Anders said, the bank chose Invest because it "provided a great deal of marketing support" that a small bank couldn't get alone. Univest will start the investment sales program with a staff of three representatives and one manager, Mr. Anders said. A lowkey marketing plan will start sometime before yearend and will focus on bringing in existing customers.

"I think we'll fare fine," Mr. Anders said.

Univest and its subsidiaries operate in 17 communities in Montgomery and Bucks counties, outside Philadelphia.

Invest, a subsidiary of Kemper Corp., Long Grove, Ill., is expected to expand later this year. That's because Kemper has agreed to be acquired in November by Conseco Inc., a financial services firm in Carmel, Ind.

Upon completion of the merger, Invest and Conseco's Bankmark Inc. investment marketing unit are expected to be combined. Bankmark, Morris Plains, N.J.. has approximately 30 clients.

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