TUCSON, Ariz. - Annuity suppliers are finding that good credit ratings and a broad array of products are no longer enough to capture bank business.
Today, financial institutions want broad support. Specifically, they are seeking training help, marketing assistance, and even capital from companies that want to market annuities to banks' customers.
That was the consensus of bankers and insurance executives at the National Association of Variable Annuities' three-day conference on selling through banks.
Insurance companies, eager to establish a toehold in banks, are willing to shoulder extra responsibilities, and their associated costs, industry consultants said. And banks, which are new to the annuity business, are eager for the extra support.
To be sure, banks cannot offer annuities without help from insurance companies. Banks, by law, must turn to insurance companies to underwrite annuity contracts.
But industry observers say the affiliations often run deeper.
"It's not a matter of looking for short-term deals," said Dean Hamilton, president of BHJ Inc., a consulting firm in West Hartford, Conn. Banks and insurers "are looking for relationships that will last over time."
For instance, Norwest Bancorp chose Fortis Financial Group as partner for a proprietary annuity launch after the insurer agreed to lend $2.5 million to the project, said Lee Chase, Norwest vice president. Before signing with Fortis, Norwest fielded inquiries from several other insurers that wanted to partner with the bank, Ms. Chase said.
Chase Manhattan Corp. also heard from a raft of suitors, but the banking company's particular needs were best met by SunAmerica, said James Detmer, national sales manager for Chase's Vista mutual funds.
The New York-based banking company puts a high premium on outside distribution and SunAmerica agreed to offer the Vista mutual funds and annuities as preferred products through its thousands of brokers, Mr. Detmer said.
Not all accords between banks and insurers involve proprietary funds.
At New York-based Citicorp, for example, a handful of outside annuities are offered, said Stephanie Seminara, product manager with Citicorp Investment Services.
In return for the access to Citi's massive branch network, the bank expects the insurers that supply the annuities to be very responsive to requests for assistance.
"We focus on a small group of insurance companies as providers so we can leverage off their expertise," Ms. Seminara said.
Insurance executives agreed that they will go the extra yard for banks, but the executives add that they place demands on banks too.
Insurers say they want to be able to sell both fixed and variable products through banks, so that one product can offset the other when markets turn.
Many insurers also want to link their technology systems to banks, enabling the companies to serve customers more quickly and to strengthen their ties to the financial institutions.
"What we looking for is a long-term relationship where it's not easy for either party to exit," said Richard C. Murphy, vice president with Aetna Life Insurance and Annuity Co.