If helping banks operate retail investment sales programs is Bankmark's bread and butter, then teaching them the brokerage business is its ice cream and cake.

When Bankmark, a unit of Conseco Inc., launched its securities training unit in 1991, it was very much a sideline. Today company officials say the unit, dubbed Bankmark School of Business, is a fast-growing profit center.

Bankmark's training classes, which range from securities license training to refresher courses for mid-career brokers, are available to any company - not just the 50 that use Bankmark as an investment marketing partner.

"It provides another opportunity to serve financial institution client's," said Robert C. Leonard, president of the Morris Plains, N.J., company.

Some 265 banks, insurance agencies, and brokerage firms, mostly on the East Coast, have enrolled students in the, school. Among them: Chemical Banking Corp., National Westminster Bancorp., and Anchor Savings Bank.

Going Nationwide

And Bankmark is preparing to take the training effort nationwide by fall. Its parent has been grooming Bankmark for expansion, and Conseco's planned acquisition of Kemper Corp. could accelerate that drive.

Anchor Savings Bank, which sent 80 insurance salespeople to the school for a licensing preparation course, recently sent them back for a refresher course.

While many states require insurance agents to brush up their skills, the work is desirable for other reasons, said Karen Cramer, manager of the thrift's New Jersey insurance unit.

"It helps improve productivity," Ms. Cramer said. "We've been very happy with the program."

The school's president, Les Sutton, said the training program is a natural extension of Bankmark's core business.

"We have a pretty good idea of banks' objectives, needs, and problems," he said.

Compliance training is a hot topic with banks that want to stay abreast of how best to comply with regulatory edicts while continuing to increase business, Mr. Sutton noted.

Financial institutions are also seeking training in preparation of expanding their offerings beyond the mutual funds and annuities that have served as foundations for their investment programs, he said.

To this end, Bankmark is supplying classes in financial planning, estate planning, marketing support, and telemarketing.

"We're being called upon more and more for this kind of thing," Mr. Sutton said.

Banks are indicating they don't want simply to push products, Mr. Sutton said. "They want to take a consultative selling approach" that factors in a broad range of investment products and services.

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