As banks settle into the mutual funds management business, they are easing up on launching funds.
Banks opened 82 new fund portfolios last year, down from 202 in 1997, according to preliminary findings by Lipper Analytical Services.
Many banks, mirroring a trend in the fund industry at large, have the product lineups they need and see little to gain from further launches, experts say.
"There's been a limit reached," said Eli Neusner, a senior consultant at Spectrem Group, a San Francisco-based investment management consulting firm. "Most fund companies have bumped up against a ceiling of what kinds of funds they can offer."
The new products - 53 equity funds, 17 fixed-income funds, nine municipal funds, and three money market funds-round out existing families of proprietary funds, Lipper said.
Though many banks' fund families initially focused on money market funds, they have grown in recent years to include more long-term funds.
Banks hit a major milestone in 1997, when equity funds increased to one- third of all fund assets at banks.
The most popular investment styles for new stock funds last year were growth-and-income and growth. In the fixed-income sector, several banks began offering corporate debt funds.
Fiduciary Trust Company International, for example, introduced four funds-municipal bond, corporate debt, growth, and growth-and-income-when it converted assets from common trust funds.
New York-based Fiduciary's FTI Funds "came out of the box with a series of boutique products," said Burton J. Greenwald of Philadelphia, an independent trustee of the funds. "Now they've added some mainstream funds."
State Street Corp. added five funds to its SSgA family, including a high-yield bond fund and a real estate equity fund. Those were developed in response to clients' requests, said G.V. "Gus" Fish Jr., a principal of State Street Global Advisors.
"We build product around our clients, not because 'if we open a fund, money will come,'" Mr. Fish said.
Satisfied that they have the right types of funds, many banks turned their attention to expanding pricing options through new share classes.
Banks launched 285 new share classes last year, up from 265 in 1997.
The new shares show how banks, like the fund industry in general, are using different fee structures to attract new customers.
For retail investors, many banks offer funds with front loads, no loads, and back-end loads - or even shares that charge along the way.
Meanwhile, banks new to selling mutual funds to trust departments and retirement plans are rolling out institutional fee structures.
"Everybody in the industry recognizes that they want to have a horse in every distribution channel," said Mr. Greenwald, who is also a mutual fund consultant.
For instance, National City Corp. began selling B shares last year on several of its mutual funds to retail brokerage clients and 401(k) plans for small businesses, according to Kathleen Harrison, a National City Corp. vice president.
B shares, or back-end loads, charge a fee when investors exit mutual funds.
"For the long-term investors, it's a better way to invest," said Ms. Harrison, who heads product management and marketing for the banking company's two fund families, Armada and Parkstone.