Three online companies have come up with products that could help banks and adviser firms gather college savings assets by offering a compelling proposition: cash in the form of rebates from name stores like Barnes and Noble and Toys ’R’ Us.

"This is similar to an employer match on a 401(k) plan. Why should anyone miss out on free money?" asked Jim Doyle, a spokesman for Upromise, a Boston online broker-dealer. "This works because it is simple. You sign up, and you are saving for college just by buying gas, or eating at a restaurant, or shopping at a bookstore or a drugstore."

Subscribe Now

Access to premium content including in-depth coverage of mutual funds, hedge funds, 401(K)s, 529 plans, and more.

3-Week Free Trial

Insight and analysis into the management, marketing, operations and technology of the asset management industry.