A mutual fund that pays a brokerage firm to be on the firm's "preferred" group of investments list may receive up to 10 times the amount of money as a fund not listed with the brokerage firm, according to new research from Cerulli Associates.

This practice, commonly known as revenue sharing, is legal but offers no transparency, which has led regulators to debate on whether it hurts investors. Competition among funds to get on firms' list is fierce, Cerulli's research says, with favored funds receiving, on average, three-times greater inflows than funds not on the list.

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