Great Western Financial Corp. has tapped Whitfield C. Wannamaker to lead a search for new outlets for its Sierra Trust mutual funds.

The giant California-based thrift, which already sells the proprietary funds through its branches and affiliates, has begun marketing them through unaffiliated firms in the past year.

Among them: brokerages Smith Barney and Raymond James Financial, and First Alabama Bank, that state's second-largest bank.

Mr. Wannamaker, a nine-year veteran of Kemper Financial Corp., says the quest for new distribution channels is a top priority at Great Western. "There is tremendous opportunity beyond the traditional bank arena," he said in a telephone interview.

Mr. Wannamaker took the newly created position at Great Western's Sierra Investment Services Corp. unit this month. He left Kemper in early March when the company reorganized the bank sales effort that he oversaw.

Because his new job will keep him on the road much of the time, Mr. Wannamaker will continue to make his home in Tampa, Fla. He will also have an office at Great Western's headquarters in Chatsworth, Calif.

The Sierra Trust funds have been strong sellers at Great Western's branches in California and Florida, giving the thrift a solid foundation for expansion, Mr. Wannamaker said. The family of 11 funds had $3.1 billion of assets as of March 31, according to data prepared for the American Banker by Lipper Analytical Services, Summit, N.J.

Mr. Wannamaker said Great Western's strategy of hiring expert money management firms to advise its mutual funds should be a plus in its bid to crack new markets.

Great Western's fund advisers -- companies like J.P. Morgan and Janus Capital Corp. -- have stronger reputations than most bank mutual fund managers do, he said.

Mr. Wannamaker plans to strengthen Great Western's relationship with its existing brokerage outlets, and to approach other brokerages, large and small, about adding the funds to their product lists.

He also wants to see the funds in banks that don't have branches in Great Western's market area.

He acknowledges it won't be easy.

"It's one thing to get brokerages to sign up, and another to develop a selling strategy to develop a selling stragety to bring in large pools of assets," he said. "You have to drive the product down through the system."

To this end, the thirft is putting muscle into its program by adding wholesalers and service personnel.

"You have to be properly set up to deal with the outside community," Mr. Wannamaker said.

He also plans to promote Great Western's asset allocation offerings, an upscale product that uses a mix of the proprietary mutual funds to attain a specified investment objective. The asset mix is fine-tuned periodically as market conditions change.

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