J.P. Morgan & Co.'s deal in July to buy 45% of American Century Investments was more than just a way for the bank to enlarge its already hefty proprietary mutual fund business.

The bank's $900 million investment in the Kansas City, Mo.-based fund company underlines a striking shift in strategy. Morgan, the elite institution for big corporations and the super rich, is in the midst of a major play for the high-end retail market.

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