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Will Fleet and Bank Boston Merge Funds?

Opposites attract and when they do, adjustments need to be made as will no doubt be the case with the mutual fund families of BankBoston and Fleet Bank.

Fleet Financial Group agreed to acquire BankBoston for $16 billion in stock March 14, creating the eighth largest bank in the U.S. with total assets of $180 billion.

The two banks run strikingly different mutual fund operations. BankBoston sells mostly no-load bond and money market funds and only four stock funds while Fleet Bank sells its Galaxy Funds with a load and 11 of its 29 funds in the family are equity funds. But that might just make for a good combination. The total assets under management for BankBoston's Boston 1784 Funds and the Galaxy Funds is about $22 billion.

Fleet Financial Group did not return calls for comment, but analysts who have followed the two banks say that a merger of the fund families is likely.

"In some ways you could see how they're complementary," said Scott Cooley, an equity analyst with Morningstar in Chicago.

There is no formula for success in terms of how the funds should be sold, Cooley said. For instance, First Union's Evergreen Funds are sold with a load, while The Chase Manhattan Bank's mutual funds are sold no-load as are the Dreyfus Funds, which are part of Mellon Bank.

"A lot of bank-run funds are actually load, but I don't think you have to go one way or another," Cooley said.

Mutual fund consultant Geoffrey Bobroff of East Greenwich, R.I. said that Fleet will most likely put the Fleet name on the BankBoston funds because that has been the route other merging banks have followed.

The two families are also likely to be merged because BankBoston has not yet found a successor to Allen Croessmann, the BankBoston mutual fund chief who left in August of last year for personal reasons, according to published reports.

There are also cost-savings to be realized from a merger of the fund families because many duplicated operations could be eliminated, said Gerard S. Cassidy, a senior vice president and analyst with Tucker Anthony. Also funds with similar objectives could be merged.

Bobroff also believes that the combined fund family will be sold with a load.

"The load model has been more successful with banks," he said.

Fleet also owns the Columbia Funds, a no-load complex based in Portland, Ore. Bobroff said there is a possibility that the BankBoston funds would be moved under the Columbia name. That would make some sense because both families are no-load.