For the fourth year in a row, Essex Corp. was the largest marketer of mutual funds and annuities through banks in 1997, according to Kenneth Kehrer Associates, Princeton, N.J.

Though the New York-based company's sales remained flat from 1996, at about $3.1 billion, it logged enough to beat its closest competitor, Independent Financial Marketing Group, by $800 million, Kehrer found. Independent Financial, which is based in Purchase, N.Y., saw its sales increase 29%, to $2.3 billion, in 1997.

No. 4-ranked Bankmark saw its volume drop 21% in 1997 - the largest decrease among the top five third-party marketing firms. In 1997, Fleet Financial Group, which had relied on Morris Plains, N.J.-based Bankmark to process its proprietary and nonproprietary mutual funds, moved that function to its own broker-dealer, according to Kehrer.

The firm has been tracking third-party marketing through banks since 1988. Its sales volume figures represent packaged investment products including fixed and variable annuities and mutual funds.

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