A New York firm best known for managing old-fashioned pension plans has teamed with First Union Corp. in a push to sell mutual funds in the bank- managed 401(k) plan marketplace.

Three asset-allocation mutual funds from Weiss, Peck & Greer, a money management company with assets exceeding $13 billion, have been added to First Union's 401(k) plan menu.

The money manager is debuting its newly formed Tomorrow retirement funds through the First Union channel, said Stephen D. Gresham, director of Weiss, Peck & Greer's financial services group.

The asset allocation funds don't require investors to explicitly determine their risk tolerance and investment objectives. Instead, the company takes a distinctive approach of building assets for retirement through portfolios segmented by employee age. The portfolios decline in risk as the employee grows older.

Weiss, Peck & Greer developed its approach in cooperation with actuaries at the Kansas City school district's pension plan in 1990.

Now the firm has packaged that concept in a series of mutual funds called the Tomorrow Retirement portfolio.

Many investors in 401(k) plans shy away from making decisions about their investment portfolios, experts say, often sticking with overly conservative investments that provide insufficient returns for retirement.

By linking a mutual fund to the employee's age, Mr. Gresham said he expects the plans to appeal to investors who recognize the need for more aggressive investments but feel afraid or uncomfortable selecting and monitoring them on their own.

"I don't care whether they (investors) take the bus or ride a Harley, we want to help them get the assets they need when they need them," Mr. Gresham said.

But not everyone shares the enthusiasm for "set-it-and-forget-it" funds like the Tomorrow funds.

"I'm just not a fan of that concept - putting someone in a (investment) cell at age 35 and leaving them there until they retire," said Ronald L. Bush, a consultant specializing in retirement plans at Access Research, Windsor, Conn.

"The majority of 401(k) plan participants are not active investors," he conceded, "but they should be revisiting their investment choices now and again."

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