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New family of MOM Funds lets smaller banks pool scarce talents of high-powered investment managers

''MOM Funds'' are not a dresser-drawer hoard lovingly set aside for Mother's Day. Rather, these quaint-sounding mutual funds offer bankers another place to stash private and pension investment money.

In a deregulated environment, banks ''desperately need this,'' says Ed Ranucci, a vice-president at Huntington National Bank of Columbus, Ohio. This statewide bank, with assets of $1.3 billion under management, was the first to sign on with Evaluation Associates Investment Management Company, a subsidiary of Torchmark Financial Services of Boston.

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Evaluation Associates has set up nine multi-manager mutual funds - the Management of Managers (MOM) Funds. The MOM Funds offer something small and medium-size banks simply can't afford: access to the management talents of 20 ''top'' investment managers.

In the increasingly rough-and-tumble world of financial services, banks are struggling to hold on to customers. Huntington National saw its asset base diminishing and was faced with ''the public perception that banks manage by committee and are slow to move,'' Mr. Ranucci says.

People think that banks are ''staid; that trust department staff turns over every nine months; that they can't afford good money managers. And it's a justified perception,'' Ranucci admits. But with the introduction last month of MOM Funds, ''essentially, we got rid of that image,'' he boasts.

Ranucci also says the MOM Funds will cut internal costs. ''We anticipate some real economies in staff - in operations, research, and perhaps investment managers.''

The MOM concept, in fact, is not new. For years, huge corporate pension funds have split their assets among several managers. The mix of strategies gives the best return, whether the market be bear, bull, or a hybrid - or so goes the theory. But most banks can't afford one top-notch manager, let alone a blend of talents. Moreover, when young bank investment stars are cultivated, they're often lured away by sizable salaries elsewhere.

Two years ago, the Frank Russell Investment Management Company in Tacoma, Wash., was actually the first to market the multi-manager concept to banks. The Frank Russell fund now has almost $1 million in its tax-exempt funds.

The difference between the two programs, says Robert Watson, chairman of Evaluation Associates Investment Management Company, is that Frank Russell has actually set up one fund with several subfunds (three equity, two fixed-income, one international, one money market). As a result, gains and losses are spread over the entire fund, and ''from a tax point of view that creates problems,'' Mr. Watson says. At Huntington National, Mr. Ranucci explains, ''there are no vehicles for taxable clients.''

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Evaluation Associates has hired as many as six investment managers for each of its no-load MOM Funds (four equity, two fixed-income, two municipal bonds, and a money market fund). It has tapped managers at such firms as BEA Associates Inc., Delaware Investment Advisers Inc., and T. Rowe Price Associates Inc.

Surpervising the managers' performance, and shifting funds accordingly, is Evaluation Associates Inc. This arm of Torchmark is already noted for publishing reports that analyze the performances of investment managers.

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