Two large distributors of annuities through banks reported precipitous drops in variable annuity sales for the first quarter, but their fixed annuity sales rose as bank customers sought to put money into products not tied to the stock market.

Boston’s John Hancock Financial Services had $283.9 million in fixed annuity sales through banks in the first quarter, up from $233 million in the fourth quarter and $134.1 million in the year-earlier quarter. But its variable annuity sales through banks slid to $17.7 million, from $39 million in the previous three months and $28.3 million in the year-earlier period.

At Nationwide Financial Services in Columbus, Ohio, bank sales of fixed annuities rose to $310 million in the first quarter, from $212 million in the previous quarter and $75 million in the year-ago period. Its variable annuity sales through banks plummeted to $407 million, from $516 million in the fourth quarter and $572 million in the year-earlier period.

“Though variable annuities are a long-term investment, the reality is the consumer is going to react to the stock market,” said Matt Riebel, president of Nationwide Financial Institution Distributors Agency Inc., the company’s bank sales arm. “If you think about it, investors should put their money into variable annuities, because in theory they’re on sale. It’s a good long-term investment. But people react the way they react.”

Tim Waterworth, vice president of John Hancock’s financial institutions group, agreed that variable annuities create a “buying opportunity,” but said he investors’ fears did not surprise him.

“We haven’t thrown in the towel on variable annuity sales for this quarter, and our wholesalers are trying to get the message out that variable annuities are a good deal,” Mr. Waterworth said. “But since bank investors tend to be more conservative, and it makes sense to be more diversified, I understand why they’ve moved toward fixed annuities.”

The increase in fixed annuity sales through banks offset the drop in variable annuities.

“It helps to be diversified,” Mr. Waterworth said. “Whether you’re an investor or an insurance company distributing annuities, it’s good to have more than one product.”

Both companies distributed the majority of their fixed annuities through banks. The bank channel represented 87% of Nationwide’s and 90% of John Hancock’s fixed annuity sales, figures that Mr. Riebel and Mr. Waterworth said reflected bank investors’ conservative nature.

Bank sales made up 31% of Nationwide’s variable annuity sales overall, and 7.4% of John Hancock’s.

“We’ve been one of the top-10 sellers through banks on the fixed side and we want to get to that level on the variable side as well,” Mr. Waterworth said. “At the same time, we have to take what the market gives us, and right now that’s more fixed sales.”

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