The Hartford, the top seller of annuities through banks, has named an executive to lead its effort to sell more life insurance through that channel.

S. Kimberly Welch, a former executive recruiter, insurance executive, and banker who joined The Hartford this spring, will try to expand the insurer's sales of estate planning and retail term life products.

Her title is director of financial institutions development.

"We have a great name recognition in the bank marketplace through our fixed and variable annuity products, and we want to leverage that position to grow out life insurance business through financial institutions," Robert Kerzner, vice president and director of individual life sales for Hartford Life, The Hartford's insurance subsidiary, said in a statement.

Before Ms. Welch's arrival, Mr. Kerzner handled sales of term, universal, and estate planning life insurance products through two dozen banks.

Sales of annuities and mutual funds through banks are overseen by Stephen T. Joyce, vice president and director of bank sales of individual investment products.

The appointment of Ms. Welch will have no effect on Mr. Joyce's operation, said company spokesman Joe Fazzino.

One industry expert predicted that The Hartford will be hard-pressed to do a lot of estate planning business through banks' trust departments.

Bank trust clients usually have their own insurance agents, and those agents are likely to suggest other products they can provide that are better suited to the clients' needs, said Valerie Jordan, a banking and insurance consultant in Belchertown, Mass.

Bank trust officers will have a hard time convincing those clients otherwise, because they don't know them or their needs as well, she said.

"Going into the trust department exposes you to very competitive sales situations with the who's who of insurance agents," said Ms. Jordan.

But she added that high-end products are The Hartford's core business, and that it makes sense to develop a presence in banks because sooner or later bank trust departments will position themselves to better compete with outside agents.

"I think it's to their advantage to start cultivating these kinds of programs, because ultimately your experienced agents are going to be hired by banks," Ms. Jordan said.

She added that offering term products aimed at the middle market is a good way to compensate for the possible slow sales through the trust department.

Ms. Welch will not build a wholesaling staff, because The Hartford sells through half a dozen third-party marketers.

Before joining The Hartford, Ms. Welch conducted senior level executive searches for insurance companies and other clients from recruiter Korn/Ferry International's Boston office.

Before that she developed and ran the life insurance and estate planning group of an independent insurance agency in Connecticut.

Earlier in her career she worked at Manufacturers Hanover Trust Co. in New York and First National Bank of Chicago.

Mr. Fazzino could not immediately provide figures for how much life insurance the company sells through banks.

The Hartford sold $3.1 billion in variable and fixed annuities through banks for 1996, tops in the industry. Of every $100 of bank annuity sales, $45 went to The Hartford.

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