Bankers have long puzzled over how to sell life insurance, but their efforts are finally producing results.

First-half bank life insurance premiums rose 45% from the same period last year, to $275 million, according to a twice-yearly survey of life insurance companies by Kenneth Kehrer Associates of Princeton, N.J.

The annual percentage rise has been steady for the past four years, the survey found.

Kenneth Kehrer, president of the company, said that pace means banks will have generated $551 million of premiums at yearend. Sales will be about evenly split between single-premium and recurring-premium products, such as term, whole, universal, and variable life, he said.

“Banks are doing different things, trying to find the right formula to sell life insurance,” Mr. Kehrer said. “They are selling through the mail, over the phone, and over the Internet, hiring agents to work in branches, and training people who sell mutual funds as well as licensed bankers to sell life insurance.”

Kim Welch, Hartford Life’s director of financial institutions, said that over the first three quarters of the year the insurer’s bank distributors went after affluent clients. As a result, Hartford’s sales of term, variable, and single-premium products through banks doubled from the year-earlier period.

“We have 180 account representatives nationwide working with bank investment representatives who have access to wealthy clients,” she said. “I think bank sales of life insurance will continue to climb, not only because of these high-net-worth clients, but also because they connect with so many people.”

Still, bank life insurance sales are not anything to crow about yet. While banks sell 13% of all mutual funds and variable annuities and 28% of all fixed annuities in the United States, they only account for 1.5% of life insurance sales.

The $275 million first-half total “is still a small one,” Mr. Kehrer said. “For years, people said banks would be the 500-pound gorilla in life insurance. That’s been slow to materialize. Both the insurance and banking industries have been disappointed, but we are seeing growth.”

Bradley Powell, the president of Jackson National’s institutional marketing group in Atlanta, said much of that growth is coming from banks, which about 18 months ago began showing much more interest in life insurance.

Those “that wanted to sell life insurance then are now in it, for the most part,” Mr. Powell said. “But we’re seeing the market mature a bit. We’re not getting as many calls from banks that want to get into life insurance sales. Not as many new bank sellers are in the pipeline.”

Mr. Kehrer said banks are more interested in selling mutual funds or variable annuities, because of the higher commissions they produce. A $500-a-year term life product has first-year commissions of around $200, while a $20,000 mutual fund or variable annuity brings in about $800 or $1,200, he said.

Mr. Powell said Jackson National will have sold more than $900 million of fixed and variable annuities through banks at yearend, while its life insurance sales through banks are expected to be around $6 million.

Kehrer Associates contacted 44 companies that sell products through banks. Seven insurers did not respond.

The firm took this year’s premium figures of the 37 insurers that responded, calculated the percentage change from last year, and applied that percentage to the sales figures reported last year by the 44 insurers to estimate this year’s sales.

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