(Bloomberg News) Retirement savings in the U.S. may swell to $4 trillion over the next four years and the nation's largest banks are angling for a bigger share of that money.

Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo & Co. are adding staff, creating easier-to-use technology and competing on fees in an effort to win more of the $2.9 trillion Americans held in 401(k)s savings plans as of September from traditional account managers such as Fidelity Investments and Vanguard Group Inc. That number may reach $4 trillion by 2015, according to Cerulli Associates, a Boston-based research firm.

"It's one of the top priorities," at JPMorgan, said Michael Falcon, whose job as head of retirement in the U.S. and Canada for the bank's asset management unit was created in January. The New York-based company is the second-largest U.S. lender by assets behind Bank of America.

The competition may mean lower costs and more choices for employers and savers, said Laura Pavlenko Lutton, an editorial director in the mutual-fund research group at Chicago-based Morningstar Inc. Greeting-card seller Hallmark Cards Inc. switched its plan to JPMorgan last year to reduce costs and improve services for employees, said Tresia Franklin, head of benefits and compensation for the Kansas City, Missouri-based company.

Participants in the most expensive plans pay more than 6% annually, while the lowest-cost ones charge less than 10 basis points, according to Ryan Alfred, co-founder of San Diego- based BrightScope, which rates plans. A basis point is 0.01 percentage point.


Over the past two decades, 401(k)s have become the fastest-growing retirement-savings option for U.S. workers, according to the Washington-based Employee Benefit Research Institute. They're the most common type of defined-contribution plan, which lets employees defer a portion of their salary into an investment account and generally not pay taxes on the money until it's withdrawn during retirement.

These assets tend to be "sticky money," said David Wray, head of the Profit Sharing/401k Council of America, which is appealing to banks because of on-going fees and contributions to the accounts. The banks also may get an opportunity to pitch their proprietary mutual funds as plan investments and sell products such as individual retirement accounts to workers who leave their jobs and want to roll over their money.

Banks may have to overcome the perception that mutual funds aren't their expertise, said Morningstar's Lutton. "Their main business is taking deposits and making loans, and many have gotten into the mutual-fund business as a way to grab wallet share of their customers," she said.

Fund Returns

The average 15-year return of mutual funds including stock, bond, alternative and balanced investments from Wells Fargo and JPMorgan as of January was about 6%, Morningstar data shows. That compares with about 7% for mutual-fund managers Fidelity, Vanguard and Baltimore-based T. Rowe Price Group Inc. Bank of America doesn't offer its own proprietary mutual funds, according to spokesman Matt Card.