Despite advisers' bullish predictions, average production dropped by 11%, to $14,930, in January from $16,728 in December.

"January ended up being a dud," said Scott Stathis, managing director and chief operating officer of Kehrer-Limra, which supplies the data for the Bank Insurance and Securities Association's Monthly Productivity Benchmark report.

For the first time, Kehrer-Limra is now including fee income as well. Sales production including the fourth quarter's fees, which paid out in January, was $25,359, up 5% from December's $24,215 average.

This is bullish news in an otherwise dismal month, but 5% isn't much to write home about, Stathis said.

Fee income helped October's average production rise by 35%, to $32,407.

If there is a bright spot it is in sales of life insurance, mostly single premium universal life, which boomed in 2009, Stathis said.

First-quarter sales of $190 million in the bank channel grew to $326 million in the second quarter, $359 million in the third and $380 million in the fourth quarter, setting a record.

Life insurance benefited from a drop in sales of the rate-challenged fixed annuities and of pricey, stripped-down variable annuities, Stathis said.

"Banks need another product in their portfolios, and life insurance can look a lot like a fixed annuity with its guarantee," he said.

"Life insurance is becoming the go-to product for the more ambitious reps."

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