Once relegated to the kids' table of the mutual fund business, there are now more banks than ever before among the top 50 fund companies in the United States.

But that ascent may slow in coming years as the methods banks used to build mass become less effective. Analysts say the maturation of the industry and increases in the competition for assets and the prices of potential acquisitions mean the easy gains already have been won.Thanks in part to consolidation among banking companies, an enduring bull market in equities, and some bold acquisitions of asset managers over the past few years, there were 14 bank-run fund companies among the U.S. top 50 on Dec. 31, according to Lipper Inc., a unit of Reuters Holdings. That's more than twice the number just five years ago.

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