Woman-Oriented Brokerage Sees 2Q Start

A brokerage geared to women is ready to open for business in the second quarter, with two former Bank of America Corp. professionals at the helm.WFN Invest, a division of the Women's Financial Network Inc. in San Bruno, Calif., is waiting to complete its acquisition of British American Securities, a small in-state brokerage. Investors will be able to trade on-line and through WFN-approved financial advisers.

WFN Invest has hired Maureen Shafer, a 20-year veteran of Bank of America Corp., Charlotte, N.C., to head operations.

Ms. Shafer, who joined WFN two weeks ago, was a senior vice president in Bank of America's San Francisco capital markets unit, responsible for 450 specialists in foreign exchange, section 20 securities, retail brokerage, and bank securities and safekeeping.

WFN's chief executive and founder, Jennifer Openshaw, spent two years in Bank of America's institutional investment management division as a marketer during the mid-'90s. Before founding WFN in late 1998, she spent two years as a fund marketer at Wilshire Associates, the company that lends its name to several indexes.

The executives said the new brokerage will cater to special needs of women that may arise after divorce or widowhood, for example. Women's Financial Network would not be the first affinity financial services Web site. The Gay Financial Network in New York offers a range of services targeting gays and lesbians. The company offers on-line trading through FleetBoston Financial Corp.'s Quick & Reilly discount brokerage unit.

- Niamh Ring

Discounter to Offer Banks On-Line Trading

National Discount Brokers Group Inc. said it plans to offer discount trading via links to banks' Web sites and kiosks set up in bank branches. The Jersey City-based brokerage has signed an agreement with $17.4 billion-asset Bank United Corp. of Houston and is in discussions with other banking companies, a spokesman said.Bank United, which already sells a full range of investment products in its branches through licensed brokers, will begin offering on-line trading to its customers on or before July 31, a spokesman said.

- Amy L. Anderson

BB&T Offers a Proprietary Fixed Annuity

BB&T Corp., Winston-Salem, N.C., last week began offering its first proprietary fixed annuity.The BB&T Decathlon Set Rate Annuity has a five-year term, with an interest yield of 7.25% for the first year and 6.25% for the next four. The annuity is issued by American General Annuity Insurance Co., a division of American General Financial Group of Houston.

The BB&T Decathlon product lacks any optional rider, but Donald Renick, a vice president of BB&T's investment arm, said that its conservative customer base appreciates the "plain-vanilla" approach.

BB&T plans to introduce other fixed annuities in the next six months, Mr. Renick said. Possibilities include an annuity with a fluctuating interest rate after the first year and products with shorter and longer terms, he said.

It introduced a proprietary variable annuity, the BB&T Director, in 1997. Mr. Renick estimated that annuity sales at BB&T - including sales of nonproprietary products - had risen about 75% from 1998 to 1999.

- Amy L. Anderson

Putnam Variable Annuity Third with Allstate

Putnam Investments has introduced a variable annuity from its joint venture with Allstate Life Insurance Co., the third new product since the companies formed a marketing alliance a year ago.Putnam Allstate Advisor Plus requires a minimum initial investment of $10,000 and a minimum of $500 for subsequent investments. Putnam, a Boston fund company, said it manages $400 billion of assets, including $45 billion of variable annuity and variable life assets. It managed $241.2 billion of mutual funds on Jan. 31, according to Financial Research Corp. of Boston.

- Cheryl Winokur

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