American Enterprise Life Insurance Co. is on the move in the bank marketplace.

The Minneapolis-based underwriter, a unit of American Express Co., is adding a fleet of customer service and sales representatives to its roster as well as upgrading annuity products and adding life insurance policies to its menu.

"We want to be a serious provider of life insurance," said Michael McCoy, the company's new chief of marketing. "We're willing to customize life insurance products for significant banks," he said.

American Enterprise is one of a myriad of companies trying to get on the ground floor of banks' efforts to sell insurance. And the February hiring of Mr. McCoy was seen as a coup for the $5 billion-asset company.

As senior vice president overseeing the bank division at Security First Group, he helped raise that smaller rival of American Enterprise to prominence in the market.

American Enterprise is seeking to add five sales representatives, or "wholesalers," to its current staff of three. The group is responsible for seeking out new banks as well as pitching new products to the company's current list of 200 or so clients.

Mr. McCoy, 36, has also hired a former Security First colleague as regional marketing director. Steven Jenkins will be responsible for helping redesign and market a variable annuity product designed solely for banks.

Mr. Jenkins arrives from American United Life Insurance Co., Indianapolis, where he was in charge of designing and marketing variable annuities, as well as training sales staffs.

At Security First, he was a sales representative covering banks in the East.

Although American Enterprise is one of the leaders in annuity sales through banks, it won't be easy to match that performance with insurance policies, said Valerie Jordan, a bank and insurance consultant in Belchertown, Mass.

Banks demand that insurance underwriters help them transform themselves from order takers to sellers who also give comprehensive financial advice to customers. "That's going to be a huge cultural change," Ms. Jordan said. "If an insurance company is smart, it will start laying the ground work now."

But Mr. McCoy has taken on that task before, said Kelly Potes, vice president overseeing the insurance agency at 1st Community Bancorp, Sparta, Mich.

Sparta relied on Mr. McCoy and Security First, then called Holden Group, to help it design an annuities and mutual fund program. Mr. Potes remembers Mr. McCoy making regular calls on the bank, and frequently enhancing marketing services as well as ponying up new products.

"He has what seems like a laid-back attitude, but is very effective," Mr. Potes said.

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