Webster Financial Corp.'s deal to acquire a 65% stake in Duff & Phelps LLC, an independent financial adviser and investment bank, illustrates both the challenges and opportunities smaller banking companies face in the corporate market.

Webster's home state of Connecticut and the Northeast in general have become a battleground for far larger competitors, such as $179 billion-asset FleetBoston Financial Corp., vying for its middle-market corporate base and affluent population.

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