In a sign of banks' rising prominence in the insurance business, bank-channel sales surged 30% in the second quarter for Nationwide Financial.

The Columbus, Ohio, insurance company reported last week that it took in $872 million in premiums and deposits through banks in the quarter, up from $674 million in the same period last year. "These numbers are indicative," said Carmen Effron, president of C.F. Effron Co. in Westport, Conn. "Bank insurance sales are up dramatically, because banks are getting better at selling it."

Most of what Nationwide sells through bank is variable annuities, $654 million of them in the second quarter. That was 16% more than a year earlier - and ahead of an industrywide rise of 14% in bank-channel sales of the products as noted in the quarterly productivity report of the Bank Securities Association.

The trade group's data were calculated by Kenneth Kehrer, president of Kenneth Kehrer Associates in Princeton, N.J., which this week is to issue a report ranking insurers by second-quarter bank sales of variables. In the first quarter Nationwide ranked fifth, at $633 million; the Hartford led the industry, with $1.098 billion, followed by Houston-based American General, with $1 billion.

Nationwide sold $70 million of pensions in the second quarter, 113% of the year-earlier figure. Its bank sales of fixed annuities climbed 38%. The company sold $8.4 million of variable life policies through banks, versus $3.5 million a year earlier.

Ms. Effron said banks are trying to sell insurance to more types of customers. Targets for most banks now include their commercial clients as well as private and trust customers, she said.

"The banks are broadening their base and their offerings," Ms. Effron said. "We've been saying this is an evolution, not a revolution. It takes time."

She added that trust customers are buying variable life products "as an adjunct to retirement planning."

Matt Riebel, president of Nationwide Financial Distributors, said that selling through the bank channel is increasing in importance.

"We're not that surprised because we've looked at banks as a growing channel," he said. "There's room for more improvement and while we don't have goals set yet, we expect the same growth patterns for the next few years."

Nationwide sells its products through approximately 250 banks.

"Every program is set up a little differently," Mr. Riebel said. "We'll see what the needs of the banks are and customize it."

Nationwide pays a commission to the broker-dealer, typically part of the investment arm of the bank, for each sale. The broker-dealer then typically pays a commission to its employee. Commission percentages depend on the product sold, Mr. Riebel said.

Nationwide Financial has $97 billion of assets under management. It is a provider of annuities, life insurance, retirement plans, mutual funds and other financial services for individuals and institutional clients. Its principal holding, Nationwide Life Insurance Co., is among the country's 10 largest insurers.

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