The online retirement company GoldK plans to launch an Internet-based program that will offer free 401(k) and IRA services through banks, brokers, and other third parties.

The firm hopes to attract small companies, which generally cannot afford retirement plans, through third-party marketers, vice chairman Troy Shaver said.

GoldK is piloting the program with about a dozen companies, which Mr. Shaver declined to name. The program will be rolled out to the public Oct. 2.

It will help banks strengthen relationships with their small-business customers, who will be able to create retirement plans for their employees at no cost, Mr. Shaver said.

GoldK will make money by bringing assets to the mutual funds, which in turn will pay the firm based on the size of those assets.

If GoldK receives any finder's or distribution fees from the fund, they will be passed on to the third-party marketer, Mr. Shaver said.

"Banks are struggling with how they are going to be affected by e-commerce," said Mr. Shaver, a former president of both State Street Research Investment Services and John Hancock Funds.

GoldK's program will handle all the administrative duties required by law - such as sending quarterly statements to participants, a source of much of the expense in running a plan - and will operate as a fund supermarket, Mr. Shaver said.

Participants will be able to choose any mutual fund offered in the United States, he said.

The firm will also handle all the necessary filings and tax transactions that typically drive up the cost of running such a service, Mr. Shaver said.

GoldK will calculate the performance of the investments, and participants will be able to download and print daily statements, creating a significant cost savings, he said.

The firm plans to keep the program running smoothly by employing 15 engineers and the most sophisticated software language on the Internet, he said.

The speed and cost of the program are its primary attractions, Mr. Shaver said. Most 401(k) plans cost between $2,000 and $6,000 and take months to set up.

GoldK's software allows a user to set up a plan within about 15 minutes free of charge, Mr. Shaver said. The program is likely to be most attractive to companies with between one and 500 customers, he added.

Many banks will be inclined to offer the program free to their business customers, simply because it could substantially strengthen already existing relationships, Mr. Shaver said.

The firm trades through GoldK Investment Services, a subsidiary brokerage formerly called Concord that the firm bought on June 30. Trades are cleared through NFSC, a subsidiary of Fidelity Investments.

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