At first glance, merger partners Wells Fargo & Co. and Norwest Corp. seem to be evenly matched in the mutual fund business.

Both rank among the largest bank managers of mutual funds-Wells Fargo places seventh, with $23.9 billion under management, while Norwest ranks 10th, with $21.0 billion, according to Lipper Analytical Services, Summit, N.J.

Both banking companies boast just shy of 400 brokers, and both draw most of their investment product sales from their customers.

But on closer scrutiny, there are some important differences between the companies. The jury is still out on whether these differences will prove complementary or divisive.

For one thing, the asset mix of their mutual fund families is sharply different. Norwest's business is about evenly split between money market mutual funds and long-term funds-the stock and bond portfolios that most retail fund companies covet.

By contrast, three-quarters of Wells Fargo's assets are in money market mutual funds. Even so, the San Francisco banking company has earned high marks for its MasterWorks retirement plans and LifePath mutual funds, which account for much of its $4.6 billion in stock fund assets.

The banks also have sharply different approaches to investment management. Minneapolis-based Norwest, with its strong trust banking tradition, manages most portfolios itself. Wells Fargo, however, has made extensive use of subadvisers, such as Barclays Global Advisors.

Wells and Norwest manage 75 and 67 mutual funds, respectively, and they are sure to find some overlap.

As they evaluate which, if any, portfolios to combine, "there will be a lot of skillful juggling," said Burton J. Greenwald, a Philadelphia-based consultant.

The banks could also have to sort out which distributor to use. Norwest's Advantage Funds use Forum Financial Services Inc., Portland, Maine, and Wells' three families-Stagecoach, Overland Express, and LifePath-are distributed by Stephens Inc., Little Rock.

They may also have to grapple with whether to push beyond the bank for customers. At Norwest, 80% of new investment business comes from clients. Similarly, Wells fund sales are primarily in-house, though mutual funds chief Michael J. Hogan has stated a desire for sales through outsiders, such as registered investment advisers.

Both banks have large engines driving investment product sales. Wells Fargo has more than 380 brokers, many of whom were recruited by executive vice president Dennis J. Mooradian, who oversees the combined private client and brokerage operation.

Brokers at Norwest Investment Services Inc., headed by John S. McCune, have well-rounded credentials.

Eighty-one percent of its 374 brokers carry insurance licenses along with securities licenses. Similarly, many relationship managers in the Norwest Investment Management and Trust division staff are certified financial planners.

Although both sides have strong leadership, the investment businesses are managed differently. Norwest has executives who are responsible for business by state, while Wells is more centralized.

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