Alliance Capital has scored two distribution coups, winning spots on the mutual fund preferred provider lists of First Union Corp. and KeyCorp.
The arrangements are important because they hook Alliance into powerful sales engines. Together with BankAmerica Corp., which recently put Alliance on its "A list," the institutions account for 19% of bank retail mutual fund sales, according to Kenneth Kehrer Associates, a consulting firm in Princeton, N.J.
New York-based Alliance is pushing hard to sell more mutual funds through banks. In August it hired Putnam Investments veteran Kevin Rowell as its first dedicated bank sales chief in several years, and he has tripled the size of its wholesaler corps, to 12.
"Alliance, through Kevin's addition, is showing commitment to the bank channel," said William Dent, an executive who oversees the mutual fund business for KeyCorp and for McDonald Investments, its brokerage subsidiary. "They have made significant progress in the last couple of years in terms of their entire sales organization."
McDonald was an Alliance distributor before its acquisition in October by KeyCorp; the funds will now be sold through McDonald as well as through KeyCorp's retail brokerage.
"The Alliance fund family has enjoyed a pretty successful relationship with McDonald over the last couple of years," Mr. Dent said. "It seemed to make sense to extend this."
Mr. Dent said that "strong wholesaling externally and internally, and strong key account support" were also factors in the decision to carry the relationship over to the bank's brokerage.
Getting on a bank's A list typically means that a fund company is one of about a dozen fund vendors with special access to its brokers, access that translates into its products being sold more aggressively.
Inclusion on a B list generally means that a vendor's funds are sold at the brokerage but are not positioned as prominently, and that wholesalers have limited access to the brokers.
The distribution deals represent a major step toward Mr. Rowell's goal of making Alliance one of the top three bank distributors by the end of 2000.
The company was among the top bank mutual fund distributors in the early 1990s. But its market share dwindled after the 1994 bond market slump, and it stayed low as the result of what many observers saw as its lukewarm commitment to the distribution channel.
Alliance's fund sales through banks were about $970 million last year. Mr. Rowell projects sales of $1.5 billion this year. Alliance has about $240 billion of assets under management, about 40% of which is in mutual funds.
The recent deals clearly indicate that Alliance is regaining banks' trust.
"To pull it off suggests they have confidence Rowell can give them the kind of wholesale support they are used to from other carriers," said Kenneth Kehrer, the consulting firm's principal.
Meanwhile, Alliance last week announced that it had named Bruce W. Calvert its chief executive officer.
Mr. Calvert, 52, was most recently the company's chief investment officer. Dave H. Williams, 66, Alliance's CEO since 1977, remains chairman of the board of directors. John D. Carifa, 53, will continue as president and chief operating officer.