Fortis Financial Group, a mutual fund and annuity marketing firm in St. Paul, is preparing to take a stab at the bank market.

The company has earmarked $1 million for new staffing and marketing efforts during the next year, and is actively searching for an executive to lead the charge.

But Fortis is quickly finding that it's not the only company on the hunt for such talent.

Scramble for Talent

"The two recruiting firms we're working with said five other fund organizations are looking to fill similar positions," said Dean Kopperud, president of the firm's brokerage and money management units.

In fact, Fortis itself recently lost marketing manager Joseph Techar to First Bank System in Minneapolis.

In addition to recruiting a national sales manager, Mr. Kopperud plans to create a sales force dedicated exclusively to financial institutions.

By establishing a greater presence in banks, he believes Fortis can dramatically boost sales. In 1991 and 1992, the company sold $100 million of mutual funds and variable annuities through financial institutions.

Sales via Insurers, Brokers

Though the company serves some banks, the major outlets for its 12 mutual funds and two variable annuities have been insurance agents and regional brokerage firms.

Among banks, Mr. Kopperud said, the most popular fund offering is the Fortis U.S. Government Securities Fund.

The government fund is also Fortis' largest, with $625.7 million under management as of March 31, according to Lipper Analytical Services. It returned 4.51% through the first five months of this year, ranking 62nd out of 128 general U.S. government funds tracked by the Summit, N.J., research firm.

Fortis' largest equity fund, the Fortis Growth Fund, with $550.2 million in assets, returned 2.88% through the first five months of 1993. This places it 92nd out of 139 similar funds tracked by Lipper.

A Top Priority

Penetrating the bank sales market has been a top priority for Mr. Kopperud since he was promoted to president of the brokerage and money management units in May.

Mr. Kopperud joined Fortis as a sales and marketing senior vice president in 1989, from Integrated Resources, where he held a similar position.

Fortis Financial Group is a unit of Fortis International, a Dutch financial services company with $45 billion in assets.

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