Putnam Investments is readying a new retirement benefits program that banks can market to small companies.

The turnkey 401(k) plan program, geared to companies with fewer than 100 employees, will hit the market in September, said Louis Tasiopoulos, director of the Boston-based mutual fund company's financial institutions division.

Putnam, which manages $67.1 billion in assets, will perform record- keeping and administrative services and provide educational materials for banks' customers, Mr. Tasiopoulos said in a recent interview.

"I think the banks are going to be leaders in the 401(k) arena," he said. Most of the companies banks lend to are small, and are just beginning to offer 401(k) plans to employees, he added.

In February, Putnam joined Bisys Group Inc., Little Falls, N.J. to split the 401(k) duties for First Chicago Corp. In that program, Putnam keeps records for the plans of large companies. Bisys provides marketing and sales support and record-keeping services for small companies.

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