In a move that could help banks compete with their nonbank rivals, the Securities and Exchange Commission has signed off on a plan by Firstar Corp. to reward mutual fund and brokerage customers with preferred banking services.

The SEC, in an April 11 letter, blessed Firstar's plan to give retail securities customers a broad array of bank perks - ranging from free checking to discounts on mortgage closing costs - based, in whole or in part, on their assets in the bank's proprietary mutual funds or in brokerage accounts.

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