Nationwide Financial is stepping up its efforts in the small-plan retirement services market.

Last week the Columbus, Ohio-based financial services company introduced a variable annuity and a record-keeping service aimed at companies with two to 25 employees. The Best of America Retirement Manager plan has no minimum assets or deposits and is administered electronically.

For plans with 25 to 100 participants, Nationwide offers the Best of America Retirement Advisor, a variable annuity with roughly 50 investment options, and Retirement Resource, which offers a choice of more than 240 mutual funds and a variety of trust company services.

To appeal to smaller plans, Nationwide reduced the minimum amount of transferred assets or recurring deposits in the Resource product from $1 million to $50,000.

All three products are available through the bank channel.

Many small retirement plans "have trouble finding someone to administer them and have limited investment options and high costs," said Steven J. Rose, vice president and product manager.

Nationwide keeps costs down through alliances with 300 plan administration firms in the United States. The independent firms oversee plan administration, design, and consulting; Nationwide provides the investment products and record-keeping platform, he said.

Clients get the personalized attention that comes with having a local point of contact, Mr. Rose said, and Nationwide is spared the expense of overseeing a lot of small accounts scattered across the country.

In addition, Nationwide has developed a sophisticated record-keeping platform that allows it to process more than 95% of transactions electronically.

According to a study released last year by Cerulli Associates of Boston, Nationwide ranked fifth in market share among full-service providers to plans with fewer than 100 participants. Principal Financial Group of Des Moines was first, with 27,000 plans administered, compared with Nationwide's 8,000.

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