Nearly two years after launching its bank sales division, American Century Investments is making headway.

Through July, bank sales accounted for 7.6% of American Century's overall sales of $19 billion, said David Larrabee, head of the bank sales unit. A year ago the figure was 5%. What's more, bank customers keep their money in American Century funds longer than their nonbank counterparts.

Net sales, or new sales minus redemptions, through banks are at 19% of total sales this year.

Over the last 12 months, the Kansas City, Mo.-based company has added selling agreements with 25 banks, for a total of about 80.

Those banks include First National Bank of Omaha, National City Bank of Minneapolis, and the trust department at Brown Brothers Harriman, the New York investment bank.

American Century, a no-load fund company, gets most of its bank sales through trust departments but tries to establish itself in several areas of the institutions it sells through.

For example, the fund company parlayed its presence in BankBoston Corp.'s employee benefits area into a deal with the company's private banking and institutional trust areas. American Century also has a deal with Fleet Financial Group's multimanager wrap program in the bank's brokerage unit. The two banking companies are set to merge in October.

American Century added five wholesalers last year to go with its five territory managers. The territory managers establish relationships with banks and try to expand them into other areas of the bank. The wholesalers work directly with the bank's sales force.

The fund company has managed to get a foothold in the bank channel despite the presence of big, entrenched powerhouses like SEI Investments, Federated Investors, and Fidelity Investments. Industry experts said the company has done well in a difficult market, particularly in selling to midsize and smaller banks, which are fragmented and expensive to serve.

"That's actually very difficult to do, so that is impressive," said Kenneth R. Hoffman, the president of Optima Group Inc., a Fairfield, Conn.-based consulting company.

Mr. Larrabee said it comes down to knocking on doors and providing good service.

"You have got to block and tackle and do it quicker and differently," Mr. Larrabee said.

The company tries to sell itself to banks as being as much a consultant as a product provider, he said. And it offers lots of research the company says can help banks increase their overall investment sales.

While American Century's sales through trust departments have grown, those through banks' retail brokerages have declined as a percentage of overall sales, Mr. Larrabee said.

A year ago brokerage sales accounted for one-tenth of the company's bank sales. They now account for 3% or 4% of the total, he said.

That is partially because banks have de-emphasized their wrap programs. BankAmerica Corp., for instance, has pulled back on its wrap business, Mr. Larrabee said.

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