Norwest Corp. has completed a long-pending conversion of $2.3 billion in employee-benefit assets into mutual funds.

The Minneapolis banking company created a new class of mutual fund shares, the Norwest Advantage Mutual Funds, to house the reorganized assets.

The move, which boosted Norwest's mutual fund assets under management to $7 billion, is part of the banking company's push into the booming but fiercely competitive 401(k) plan market.

"I think we'll do very well as a regional player. That's really where our niche is," said Laurie Nordquist, vice president for Norwest's employee benefit services division.

Norwest hopes to gain the upper hand by providing customers with trustee and record-keeping services as we as tailor-made asset-allocation software and toll-free telephone account access in both Spanish and English.

Norwest services 2,200 retirement plans with 265,000 participants, up from 250,000 in July.

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