Cigna Retirement and Investment Services, a unit of Philadelphia-based Cigna Corp., is turning to banks to reach the small- and midsize business market with some of the same services that it sells directly to large companies.

The Hartford, Conn.-based unit has done limited distribution through banks in the past, and the current push is its first broad effort to exploit the bank channel.

Edward Jaworski, a vice president of Cigna Retirement and Investment, said the company's goal is to establish alliances with banks that have assets of $5 billion to $30 billion and to serve businesses with retirement plans of $1 million to $15 million.

"Our strategy is to find strong regional banks involved in the retirement market," Mr. Jaworski said. "Regional banks generally have demonstrated they have an excellent relationship with 401(k) sponsors, but they are coming to grips with the fact that it takes a lot on the technology end of all of this, as well - and they are struggling to keep pace."

"Megabanks have the wherewithal through cash or acquisitions to be effective in the market and don't really need us," Mr. Jaworski said.

Cigna's bank distribution initiative is part of what the company is calling a "three-pronged" effort to increase its share of the small- and midsize business market. In addition to opening up the banking channel, Cigna said it would also look to wholesale its retirement and investment products through securities and insurance brokers and third-party administrators, as well as through a new direct distribution unit.

Mr. Jaworski said Cigna hopes to offer banks the technology and infrastructure to support all their plan sponsors' needs, including record keeping, participant education, investment option flexibility, and Web-based account access for employers and employees.

In a statement, Cigna put the size of the small and midsize market at more than 50,000 businesses, a segment it said includes "the fastest-growing companies in the U.S. economy."

Cigna Retirement and Investment Services, with $56 billion of the corporation's $95.3 billion in consolidated assets, is one of three Cigna business divisions. Mr. Jaworski said neither of the other two units - Cigna Healthcare, Life and Disability or Cigna International Life, Health and Employee Benefits - has distributed products through banks to date.

Cigna has offered defined-contribution plans to Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi clients and prospects in the United States. Cigna Financial Services Inc., the retail broker subsidiary, started selling 401(k) and investment products through First National Bank of New England on a much smaller scale more than a year ago.

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