Mutual fund investors overwhelmingly prefer making their purchases through financial advisers, according to a study by the Investment Company Institute.

Of 1,165 investors surveyed by the trade group, the largest category - 59% - said they'd bought mutual funds only from full-service brokers.

Twenty-two percent bought only through discount brokers, fund companies, or both.

Most of the rest used both basic routes, buying through full-service brokers as well as on their own. And a small number said they'd bought through their lawyers or accountants.

The findings come as fund companies continue to rev up efforts to sidestep brokers and market directly to investors. Fund companies that rely on financial advisers are battling Fidelity Investments, Vanguard Group, and other giants that are trying to persuade investors to choose mutual funds on their own.

These fund complexes, known as no-load companies because they don't impose sales charges, increasing assets fast and capturing market share. Last year such companies drew in 42.2% of new fund assets, up from 40.5% in 1994 and 39.2% in 1993, according to data from the institute that were included in the survey.

The institute, which is the mutual fund industry's largest trade group, conducted its survey in mid-1995 to develop a profile of the typical mutual fund investor.

The report, issued this week, includes the finding that the average fund investor is a 44-year-old man in a household with income of $60,000.

Fund companies that rely on financial advisers took heart from the report. "Rumors of our demise are clearly exaggerated," said Barry Knight, vice president in charge of sales through banks at Pioneer Group, a mutual fund company in Boston.

Pioneer, which manages $13.2 billion in assets, sells its portfolios through banks, brokers, and financial planners.

Mr. Knight suggested that the no-load fund companies are drawing much of their assets from 401(k) retirement plans, which people generally invest in without an adviser's help. The survey did not include investors who access mutual funds through 401(k) plans only.

The typical shareholder has experience investing in funds, the survey found. Nearly 70% of fund owners invested in their first portfolio before 1990. And fund owners are not averse to individual stocks; the survey said 61% of stock fund investors and 59% of bond fund investors also own stocks.

More than 30 million households across the U.S. own mutual funds, up from 4.6 million in 1980, the trade group said.

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