Just a few years ago, most banks were feisty newcomers on the mutual fund scene. Today, many are old hands at marketing and managing mutual funds. Indeed, more than 2,500 banks are now selling the investments.

As banks accumulate experience in the mutual fund business, they are becoming savvier about where their strengths lie. Increasingly, they're focusing on funds as a vehicle for retirement savings - particularly the corporate-sponsored savings plans known as 401(k)s.

What's so appealing about managing retirement plans?

The simplest explanation is that assets are flooding into these plans, and mutual funds increasingly are the investment vehicle of choice. At some fund companies, retirement plans account for two-thirds or more of monthly inflows.

And for banks, 401(k) plans have special appeal: they're a way to expand and cement relationships with the small and midsized businesses that occupy banks' corporate client rosters.

With that in mind, the third annual edition of Masters of Mutual Funds focuses on nine banks that are capitalizing on the retirement savings boom.

We also tip our hats to 21 banks (see list below) that have come up with sharp ideas or notched important achievements over the past 12 months, bringing our honor roll to 30.

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