John Hancock Funds has begun distributing insurance products through its mutual fund sales network of broker/dealers, national and regional wire houses, and banks.

It has formed a new unit, John Hancock insurance services, which will consolidate wholesaling of life insurance and annuity products for the brokerage community, said Thomas Slack, senior vice president of national sales for Hancock's insurance services group.

Distributors are "all fighting for the clients' assets," he said, "It's getting more and more difficult to be simply a stockbroker in a transactional type investment business.

"Clients want more than that to justify the commission that they pay. They want a full-service advisory relationship."

John Hancock Funds is a subsidiary of John Hancock Financial Services of Boston. The new unit will distribute the parent company's life insurance, annuities, long-term care policies, and estate products through a single contact person for the financial professional.

Each contact will be supported by a range of insurance specialists.

Mr. Slack stressed that the organizational structure - with one point of contact - is central to the company's plan for insurance sales growth through the mutual fund distribution channel.

Insurance has usually been distributed with a different wholesaler handling each line for each channel.

Mr. Slack said investment professionals have been asking for one point of contact at which to discuss the company's entire line of products, simplifying the wholesaling process. "They want somebody they can work with to develop insurance sales," he said.

Hancock considers its willingness to do this - and its ability to offer both mutual funds and insurance products through these channels - to be a big advantage in getting financial professionals to sell their products, Mr. Slack said.

Many broker/dealers, banks, and wire houses offer insurance already, "but most are in it on a casual basis," he said. "Normally it's their lowest profit center." Only a few such companies have really gotten serious about life insurance, Mr. Slack said, citing Merrill Lynch and Citigroup's Salomon Smith Barney unit as two.

The goal of the new sales unit is to change that profit picture, he said, and to help financial professionals add to their insurance business.

The company said it expects that in 2001 it will be selling $30 million of life insurance premiums and $1 billion of annuities through this channel. These goals contrast with 1998, Mr. Slack said, when "essentially there were no life insurance sales [in this channel] and there was maybe $20 million of variable annuity."

Insurance "is going to be the growth engine of John Hancock Funds," he predicted.

The company is simplifying the application process for many products by using technology and shorter forms, Mr. Slack said. "We're taking the mutual fund concept of transactional sale, and we're moving that into all of our insurance products."

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