Bank of America is out to crack the nationwide retirement planning market, with help from some unlikely allies.

The San Francisco-based bank will combine nine of its own mutual funds with three from outside mutual fund companies to create a retirement savings plan product with broad appeal, said Richard A. Rabis, senior vice president.

"As big as Bank of America is, it is not perceived as a major mutual fund provider to the 401(k) market," Mr. Rabis said.

To build recognition, the bank is creating a "Best of Funds." product that uses its own Pacific Horizon funds as well as offerings from outside money managers, he said.

So far, just a handful of banks have successfully made their presence known nationally in the retirement planning arena. Bankers Trust New York Corp., State Street Bank and Trust Co., and Wells Fargo & Co. are among the handful that market nationally, said Glen Casey, a consultant at Cerulli Associates, Boston.

Bank of America is already a leading player' among banks that manage mutual funds. At June 30, the subsidiary of BankAmerica Corp. had $8.4 billion of assets trader management in an array of funds, according to Lipper Analytical Services, Summit, N.J.

But that strong lineup is not well known beyond the banking company's market area, Mr. Rabis said.

"We've had to identify the strengths and weaknesses of our product line," he said.

Marquee names like Putnam Investments or Fidelity Investment would help attract investors, he said, although he declined to reveal which companies Bank of America may work with.

"We'll probably have to do one more cut," he said of the contenders the bank is considering.

Bank of America is looking for at least one outside bond fund and an international equity fund, Mr. Rabis said.

The bank is also figuring out how it will fairly compensate the partners for supplying name value, as well as fund products. One option is to split investment advisory fees with partners, instead of confining compensation to a portion of shareholder servicing fees, Mr. Rabis said.

Bank of America is right to partner with outside fund companies for its nationwide push, industry observers said.

They pointed out that it's much easier for banks to build local beachheads by leveraging their lending and cash management relationships with existing clients.

Bu.t corporations that don't already have a relationship with Bank of America will not be easy to woo, said Eugene M. Howerdd Jr., principal at Howerdd Financial Corp., Atlanta.

"Banks are not perceived as having a long-term management record, so they've had to bring outside fund managers in," Mr. Howerdd said.

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