As Amsouth Bancorp. presses into Florida, its investment products team is trying some new tricks.

While the Alabama company relies on its own sales force on its home turf, it has retained outside assistance - Portland, Ore.-based Marketing One Corp. - to crack the Sunshine State.

Why? Mainly to get around Florida laws that prevent banks from selling annuities directly. In the red-hot retirement market of Florida, annuities are considered an absolute must for any serious seller of investment products.

Beginning in mid-January, 28 of Marketing One's fully licensed brokers will be selling both annuities and mutual funds through Amsouth's burgeoning network of Florida branches. In 1993, the Birmingham-based Amsouth agreed to acquire seven banks in central Florida with a total of $5 billion of assets.

Key Component

Amsouth executives have high hopes for the sales effort, calling it a major component of the company's strategy for Florida.

"The central Florida market requires the delivery of investment products and services if you are going to be competitive," said George Stevens, senior vice president in charge of consumer investment services at Amsouth.

"We're taking a very aggressive sales program into our central Florida banks."

Amsouth is no stranger to the world of investment products. Earlier this year, it embarked on an ambitious plan to sell mutual funds, annuities, and other investment products through more than 170 branches in Alabama and Tennessee.

In those states, all members of Amsouth's investments sales force work for Amsouth Investment Services Inc., the bank's broker-dealer subsidiary.

Getting in Position

But in Florida, the banking company has had to adopt a new approach because of laws barring banks and their affiliates from selling insurance products, including the increasingly popular annuities.

"In Florida, we feel like we have to be in a position to sell annuities," Mr. Stevens said. Fixed-rate annuities typically appeal to older, risk-adverse consumers, such as the legions of retirees in Florida.

As Amsouth proceeds, it will face plenty of competition. Indeed, Florida - the nation's fourth most populous state and one of the fastest-growing - is emerging as one of the hottest markets for bank investment products.

The state already boasts four formidable players: Barnett Banks Inc.. First Union Corp., NationsBank Corp., and Sun-Trust Banks.

But Amsouth's Mr. Stevens is undaunted. Through Marketing One, Amsouth plans to eventually offer investment products at 130 branches throughout central Florida.

"What we're doing in Florida is part of a larger strategic effort to position the bank as a provider of investment products and services," he added.

Earlier this year, Amsouth for the first time began offering its proprietary fund family, the Outlook Group, to consumers in Alabama and Tennessee.

Today, its nine-member fund family, which has been renamed the Amsouth Funds, has $1.4 billion of assets under management. They are distributed by Winsbury Co. of Columbus, Ohio.

Adding Funds

The Amsouth funds represent about half the company's mutual fund sales volume, Mr. Stevens said. Amsouth plans to sell those funds aggressively in Florida, too.

For the market there, it is considering adding a fixed-income fund and a Florida tax-exempt fund to the product line, Mr. Stevens said.

Mr. Stevens said the bank chose Marketing One because the firm ran a successful program for Fortune Bancorp., a Clearwater, Fla. thrift that Amsouth is acquiring.

According to Mr. Stevens, Marketing One also will provide some annuity marketing services to Amsouth salespeople in the bank's traditional markets. Amsouth is also considering launching a proprietary variable annuity product.

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