GNA Corp., which is struggling to push its wares through banks, has lost its top sales executive to a much smaller rival.

Hans L. Carstensen 3d, a senior vice president for marketing, is leaving the Seattle insurer to become president of Commercial Union Life Insurance Company of America, Boston.

His departure is seen as a blow to $30 billion-asset GNA, which saw a sharp drop in annuity sales through banks last year.

Mr. Carstensen was to begin his new job today, a Commercial Union source said. He has not yet been replaced at GNA, said a spokeswoman.

GNA was founded in 1980 to provide financial institutions with annuity products. While it built itself into a leader in the bank marketplace, its emphasis on fixed annuities hurt its share last year when variable annuities took center stage.

Indeed, sales of GNA annuities through banks plummeted by 32% in 1995, according to Kenneth Kehrer, a bank and insurance consultant in Princeton, N.J.

Still, Mr. Carstensen is credited with having built up GNA's presence in banks, especially those in the North.

"He certainly was one of the key architects of their expansion to become one of the largest providers of annuities and mutual funds through banks," Mr. Kehrer said.

For Commercial Union, Mr. Carstensen's arrival signals a beefed-up commitment to banks. "Commercial Union has been active in the bank channel in a modest way," Mr. Kehrer said, "but this heralds a new focus."

At Commercial Union, Mr. Carstensen replaces James Madden, who is retiring. In an interview this year, Mr. Madden had said he was looking to banks to generate 20% of total sales within two years.

Mr. Carstensen arrived at GNA via its acquisition by Weyerhaeuser Corp. in 1983. In 1993, GNA was acquired by GE Capital, and Mr. Carstensen was put in charge of the sales forces that marketed through both banks and brokerages, Mr. Kehrer said.

GNA also named David Sanderford to head the bank sales effort, but Mr. Sanderford left for Aetna Life Insurance and Annuity Co. the next year. Mr. Carstensen was then forced to straddle two roles.

Commercial Union, which holds $2 billion of assets, is a subsidiary of Commercial Union Insurance Cos., London.

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