Wachovia Corp. has lent its name to its mutual fund family. The Winston Salem, N.C.-based banking company has renamed the Biltmore Funds as the Wachovia Funds. The move is part of a strategy to position Wachovia as a total financial services provider, said R. Edward Bowling, senior vice president and product manager of Wachovia Funds. "It made sense for us to more closely identify the funds as being managed by Wachovia Investment Management," Mr. Bowling said. With the name change, Wachovia joins about 20 banks that have put their corporate monikers on their mutual fund families. While regulations that had once frowned upon the practice have loosened in recent years, the majority of banks continue to shy away from giving their funds sound-alike names. "Most banks have spent a lot of money promoting the name of their funds," said one mutual fund lawyer who requested anonymity. "To change it to anything would mean they'd lose that investment." Indeed, Wachovia's name change did not come cheap, Mr. Bowling said. The bank had to invest in new prospectuses and marketing materials. And its executives had to be sure the funds' shareholders were aware of the change before they could begin marketing and advertising the new moniker outside the bank. But Wachovia is hoping the new name will help it raise the profile of its money management arm, Mr. Bowling said. The Biltmore handle was recognized by some customers in Wachovia's Southeast market, but few people outside the region knew the funds were managed by a unit of Wachovia, he said. The change should help Wachovia align its funds with its other services, one brand identity consultant said. But he warned that the switch may create barriers for future business ventures. "While the name change provides brand continuity, it potentially closes the door for them selling those funds through other banks and other outlets outside their footprint," said Brannon M. Cashion, a brand consultant at Addison Whitney, Charlotte, N.C. Charlotte, N.C.-based NationsBank Corp. broke the name barrier in 1992 when it merged two fund families under the name NationsFunds. Until that year, regulators prohibited bank-managed funds from having names similar to those of their bank parents, fearing customers would mistakenly think the portfolios were covered by federal deposit insurance. In 1993, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency issued a letter allowing funds advised by national banks to have names similar, but not identical, to the banks'. The letter also prohibited the fund name from using the word "bank." Banking regulators reached a consensus in February 1994, and issued an interagency statement, which extended the guidelines to all bank-advised funds. Among the banks that have given at least some of their funds sound-alike names are large players like Citicorp, NationsBank, and Northern Trust Corp., as well as smaller competitors like Brenton Bank and Union Planters Corp. Meanwhile, other bank-managed funds have become established brands in their own right, such as Chase Manhattan Corp.'s Vista Funds and Wells Fargo & Co.'s Stagecoach Funds. But Wachovia's Biltmore Funds had not achieved that status, one consultant said. "Wachovia has substantial name-brand recognition in the Southeast," said Burton J. Greenwald, managing director of B.J. Greenwald Associates, Philadelphia. "Biltmore certainly doesn't have name recognition."
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