'To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.'

- Oscar Wilde, The Importance Of Being Earnest

By Eric Pierce
& Shaun Brown
Staff writers

Robertson Stephens will have a third parent company in as many years, as Fleet Financial Group announced plans to acquire Robbie's current parent, BancBoston, for $16 billion. Just last June, BancBoston acquired Robbie from BankAmerica for $800 million. BankAmerica had purchased the investment bank in October 1997 for $540 million, but subsequently shed the unit following its merger with NationsBank, which already owned Montgomery Securities.

Part of Fleet's business services umbrella is Quick & Reilly, the third largest on-line brokerage in the U.S., which should provide an additional distribution channel for the investment bank's research and equity deals. "We've been looking to solidify ourselves with an online distribution channel, and this will be a significant step," said Mark Simon, co-head of life sciences investment banking. "We will be able to pass our research and new issues through that channel." Simon said Quick & Reilly's Suretrade customer base grew by 45,000 in the fourth quarter to 250,000 customers.

Simon also noted that the new parent has deeper pockets and that Fleet's market cap is $24 billion versus BancBoston's $13 billion. While the details have to be ironed out, Simon doesn't anticipate a cut in resources dedicated to Robbie's biotech practice. The firm also will get its original name back, reverting to Robertson Stephens & Co. post-merger.

Agbio dollars

While the big agbio players continue to consolidate - as attested to by the planned combination of DuPont and Pioneer Hi-Bred announced last week