The architect of Aetna Life and Casualty Co.'s program to sell annuities through banks has resigned unexpectedly.

David Sanderford, 52, an Aetna vice president, said this week he will leave the insurer, based in Hartford, Conn., in July. He declined to elaborate on his plans.

News of Mr. Sanderford's pending departure surprised other executives in bank-insurance circles, as it came less than two years after his much- heralded arrival from Aetna's archrival, GNA Corp.

Mr. Sanderford was credited with establishing the GNA, based in Seattle, as a leading seller of insurance products through banks. His frustration in trying to do the same for Aetna prompted his decision to leave, sources said.

The nation's eighth-largest insurer was not willing to back up Mr. Sanderford's efforts with competitive products, these sources added. In particular, they said, Mr. Sanderford had difficulty persuading Aetna executives to customize the company's annuity products for the bank-channel - something many of its competitors do.

"His sales haven't grown as fast as he expected," one source said. "These proud, old companies who think they're so neat don't know how hard it is to break into the bank marketplace."

Aetna has generated $50 million in annuity sales through banks in 1996, according to Kenneth Kehrer Associates in Princeton, N.J. Market leaders ITT Hartford and Aegon USA, meanwhile, have each racked up $1.4 billion in sales.

At Aetna, Mark Hugg, senior vice president for sales, acknowledged that Mr. Sanderford's departure is a setback for Aetna, a relative latecomer to the bank channel.

"What I'd like to do is give this whole thing the once over, Mr. Hugg said. "It's going to be a big loss for us."

He said the company remains committed to selling insurance through banks. Mr. Hugg may hire an outsider for Mr. Sanderford's position or simply promote Mr. Sanderford's deputy, Robert O'Mara, he said.

Another option is to merge Aetna's financial institutions division into a unit that sells through another distribution channel such as brokerage houses, Mr. Hugg said.

Mr. Sanderford, in a telephone interview this week, declined to discuss his departure. "I do have some plans, but none that I can talk about today."

At Aetna, Mr. Sanderford signed on several large bank clients, including First Bank System Inc., Minneapolis, and Amsouth Bancorp., Birmingham. His division also inked a contractual agreement with Invest Financial Corp., a leading third-party marketing firm that now gives Aetna exposure to more than 240 banks.

Outsiders say that even though the quality staff he has assembled will soften the blow, Mr. Sanderford's departure is a loss.

"Aetna had announced big plans to get into the bank marketplace with David Sanderford as their leader," said Stephen Joyce, assistant vice president, bank and thrift sales, ITT Hartford Group Inc.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.