Hartford and the Allstate Life Group, two of the top three insurance companies in first-half variable annuity sales through banks, have Putnam Investments of Boston to thank for much of their success, according to a study released by Kenneth Kehrer Associates.

Hartford's Capital Manager and Allstate's Putnam Allstate Advisor, both managed by Putnam, are among the top annuities sold through banks, the study said.

"Capital Manager is the bellwether of variable annuity products sold through banks," said Ken Kehrer, president of the consulting firm. "Then Allstate created an annuity with Putnam as the manager as well, hoping for the same sort of success the Hartford has had. The Hartford remains on top in variable annuity sales partly because they got there first and partly because they also are among the top-selling mutual fund families."

In the first half Hartford sold $1.835 billion and Allstate $581 million of variable annuities through banks. Nationwide was second, with $1.171 billion.

Variable annuities are like mutual funds in that the investor's returns depend on the performance of underlying investments, rather than the interest rate paid by the insurer. The insurance company charges an annual fee to invest the customer's money in the mutual fund, which is controlled by the manager.

Jane Mancini, managing director and head of insurance at Putnam Investments in Boston, said her company has succeeded in selling through banks because its products have a history of performance and because it has shelf space at banks.

"Also, the way we position our funds makes us popular," Ms. Mancini said. "No one sector of a fund is going to perform each quarter. We encourage diversifying and being conservative."

Bank customers, too, tend to be conservative, she said.

Hartford also sells The Director, a multimanager product, through banks.

Though Hartford and Allstate offer single-manager annuities, only one of the other top 10 companies does so: Sun Life of Canada, which was 10th in the study and uses MFS.

Twenty-six of the 32 annuities included in the study were multimanager products.

"For a consumer, having a multimanager variable is good because one manager might be better at value, while another is better at growth," Mr. Kehrer said. "It's sort of like hedging your bets." For instance, he said, Nationwide's Best of America Future annuity uses 12 managers.

"The Nationwide product sells very successfully through Citigroup. When Citigroup first started selling variable annuities, Nationwide was there," Mr. Kehrer said. "Still, having a brand name like Putnam or Fidelity can go a long way because people are comfortable buying products from established funds. Also, presumably for a salesperson, it becomes more difficult to stay on top of a product when there are more investment choices."

The other companies in the top 10 are American Skandia, Aegon, American General, Pacific Life, Jackson National, and Equitable.

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