There has been plenty of talk about the mutual fund industry's shift to selling its products through intermediaries instead of selling them directly to retail investors. Observers have been saying for months that investors, timid in a bear market, are turning to intermediaries for advice about how to invest their money.

And a statistic released by the industry's chief lobby group has played a key role in feeding that buzz. The Investment Company Institute says that mutual funds sold directly to retail investors fell from 23% of all fund sales in 1999 to 16% in 2000.

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