GE Financial Assurance, the investment and insurance arm of General Electric Co., is building up its mutual fund lineup and planning to increase its bank sales.
The company announced last month that it added four funds to its GE Funds family, for a total of 17. And it plans to launch half a dozen more this year, said Michael Cosgrove, the president of GE Funds.
And Richmond, Va.-based GE Financial Assurance plans to expand its small presence in the bank channel, said Marty Griffin, national marketing director for financial institutions services.
"We're in the build mode in the bank channel," he said.
Company executives would divulge few details about their year-old bank sales operation. But they did say 12 dedicated bank wholesalers sell mutual funds and annuities and there are plans to add three more by the end of April.
Banks that already sell GE's annuities are the primary targets for expanding fund sales, the executives said. They also said GE has 15 bank mutual fund partners but declined to name them.
"We are not necessarily going to go out and talk to every bank," Mr. Griffin said. However, "we're finding that there is demand for multiple products."
GE Financial Assurance is already a significant player in selling annuities through banks. Last year it ranked fifth in fixed annuity sales through banks, with $462 million, and 15th in variable annuity sales, with $191 million, according to Kenneth Kehrer Associates of Princeton, N.J.
The executives would not reveal sales figures for the fund business, but assets under management for external clients such as retail investors are $5 billion, they said.
GE Financial Assurance also sells through brokerage firms, financial planners, insurers, independent broker-dealers, and a captive sales force.
It has sold retail funds since late 1993.
Though it has high name recognition through its association with one of the nation's biggest industrial companies, GE Financial Assurance faces an uphill climb breaking the bank sales market, its rivals say.
"If a firm doesn't have shelf space now, its going to be really hard to get it longer term," said the bank sales chief of one of the nation's biggest fund companies, who requested anonymity.
Banks have been shortening their lists of preferred providers and consolidation of big banks like BankAmerica Corp. and NationsBank Corp. has intensified competition to get onto those lists and stay on them.
Of GE's 17 funds, 10 are equity funds, six are bond funds, and one is a money market fund. The new products are a Europe equity fund, a mid-cap value equity fund, an emerging-markets fund, and a high-yield fund.
Four of GE's funds are run by subadvisers, all of whom have worked on GE pension funds and so are familiar with the company's style, which Mr. Griffin described as conservative and long-term.
"We are not a money manager that plays the flavors of the month," he said.
Among the funds the company is likely to launch this year are a large- capitalization fund, an international fund, and a fixed-income fund, Mr. Cosgrove said. He declined to be more specific.
Though the name GE is synonymous with products like toasters and lightbulbs, the company is also the nation's 13th-largest life insurer, with annual premiums of more than $5 billion.
GE Financial Assurance is the holding company for 11 insurance and investment businesses. It is a unit of GE Capital, based in Stamford, Conn.
General Electric Co., the parent company, is based in Fairfield, Conn.