Nationwide Mutual Insurance

said Thursday that it would buy

Gartmore Investment Management

from the

Royal Bank of Scotland

for $1.6 billion.

The purchase gives Nationwide, the sixth-largest U.S. life insurer, a long-sought foothold in Europe as it works to establish a global name, said Bob Beasley, spokesman for the company.

Nationwide manages $115 billion in assets, while Gartmore manages more than $85 billion, according to the companies. London-based Gartmore also manages pension funds, with operations in the U.S., Japan and Germany.

Royal Bank put Gartmore up for sale after acquiring it in a takeover of

National Westminster Bank

. The purchase is by far Natiowide's largest foray into Europe. The company has owned

Nekura

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, a German auto insurer, since the 1960s.

Nationwide Global

, the company's international unit, bought

Pan-Euro Life

in Luxembourg in late 1998.

The company intends to concentrate on financial services with the acquisition. Beasley said Nationwide had no plans to bolster its insurance business with side-by-side sales of asset management services and insurance policies.

The deal is the largest of its kind since 1997, when

Merrill Lynch

(ML)

bought British-based

Mercury Asset Management

for $5.3 billion.