Firms that sell their funds directly to investors are breaking into three groups, a stratification of the direct sales market that is unlikely to change for the foreseeable future, according to a mutual fund marketing and distribution consultant.

The direct sales market has evolved into a three-tier market, according to Jonathan Zeschin, president of JZ Partners LLC, a consulting firm in Denver, Colo. The top tier is occupied by a handful of large firms with recognized brand names, ample resources and a devoted following of investors, Zeschin said. This group includes Fidelity Investments of Boston, the Vanguard Group of Malvern, Pa., Janus Funds of Denver, T. Rowe Price Associates of Baltimore and American Century Investments of Kansas City, Mo., Zeschin said.

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