Alliance Capital is joining the ranks of mutual fund companies that are adding sales executives to sell more through banks.
The New York company plans to add eight bank wholesalers by the end of 1999, for a total of 16. It also plans to add three key account managers, for a total of four, and create two division manager positions, said Kevin Rowell, Alliance's chief of sales through banks.
The division managers will maintain contact with higher-level bank executives than the key account managers deal with.
Alliance's goal is to transform itself from a minor player in the bank market to one of the top three before 2001, said Mr. Rowell, a former Putnam Investments executive who joined Alliance in early August.
Noting that Alliance is the top outside-fund seller through Merrill Lynch & Co., Mr. Rowell said: "My goal is to bring that type of market share within the banking industry."
Mr. Rowell said he is counting on two factors to give the company an edge over its rivals-its program to educate bank sales forces and its expertise as an institutional money manager.
Alliance's "Business Development Institute" brings in speakers from outside the company to address bank sales forces on topics such as how to develop a fee-based approach to selling investment products.
The company has a strong heritage in institutional money management, and now oversees $155 billion in institutional accounts, compared with $107 billion in retail mutual fund assets.
That means it has experience with hedge funds, wrap products, and other products banks may be interested in, Mr. Rowell said.
Alliance used to rank among the handful of biggest sellers through banks, with more than $1 billion in annual sales in the early 1990s. But this year Mr. Rowell expects to sell $800 million through banks, placing the company below the top 10.
Alliance's business was hurt by the 1994 bond market slide. The head of brokerage at one bank, who is familiar with the fund company, said that Alliance damaged its reputation by inaccurately touting one fund in particular as very safe.
The Alliance Multi-Market Strategy Trust, which was a big seller through banks, posted a loss of about 13% in 1994. After that, the fund company seemed to reduce its commitment to bank sales, said the executive, who requested anonymity.
"The reason Alliance needs to re-establish itself is because it basically walked away from banks three or four years ago," he said.
Mr. Rowell is the company's first bank sales chief since the late 1980s.
It will be difficult for Alliance to dethrone the market leaders. Putnam sold $10 billion through banks last year, while Franklin Templeton sold $4 billion. OppenheimerFunds and AIM Management Group each sold $2.5 billion.
Mr. Rowell has lots of experience distributing mutual funds through banks. Back in 1988, he became the first executive at Putnam responsible for selling funds through that channel. He recently led an effort to develop Putnam's sales through European banks and financial planners.
He said he decided to take the job with Alliance because the company had already set aside the money needed to hire the additional executives. That, he said, convinced him that the company was serious about building its bank business.
Alliance has active selling agreements with about 50 banks; Mr. Rowell declined to name any of them. He said that many fund companies do not have enough wholesalers to properly serve their bank partners, and that should give Alliance an opportunity to gain market share by offering better service.
The company's biggest selling funds through banks are its Premier Growth Fund, a large-capitalization stock fund; its value-oriented Growth and Income Fund, and its Quasar Fund, a small-cap, aggressive-growth fund.