Essex Corp., a New York wholesaler of fixed and variable annuities, is gearing up to sell mutual funds through banks.

Starting Jan. 1 the third-party marketing firm will distribute the FundManager Portfolios, a six-fund family that invests in a basket of third-party funds.

Such "fund of fund" products provide extra diversification. The FundManager Portfolios, managed by Freedom Capital Management Corp., Boston, have $220 million of assets under management.

Last year Essex sold about $2.2 billion of fixed and variable annuities. But Scott Davis, senior vice president of Essex's broker-dealer arm, said some of the company's 100 bank clients also expressed interest in funds of funds.

People's Bank of California in Los Angeles has already decided to sell those that Essex will be offering.

Stuart Sprenger, sales manager for the bank's investment program, said the funds will make life easier for employees who double as investment representatives. The $3.3 billion-asset company is licensing 65 to sell mutual funds.

"I'd be surprised if a lot of banks didn't pick this up," Mr. Sprenger said.

GreenPoint Bank in New York is among those considering it.

"Conceptually we like it,"said Larry Dorris, who manages the investment program at $13 billion-asset bank. However, GreenPoint wants to see "a little more history on the fund managers" and the funds' performance, he said.

Essex's Mr. Davis said the FundManager Portfolios are impressive. Few other fund-of-fund complexes have 10-year records, he said, and FundManager chooses from thousands of third-party funds.

"We felt that this was a good match for our current client base," Mr. Davis said.

Carey C. Cort, the funds' director of marketing, said they have been distributed mostly through insurance companies, financial planners, brokerages, and internal sales support.

"We had a lot of success in insurance channels, and we expect to have a lot of success in the bank channel," she said.

Ms. Cort said there are no plans to distribute the FundManager Portfolios through other third-party marketers. Likewise, Mr. Davis said Essex does not plan to wholesale other mutual funds.

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