Armed with an endorsement from the Florida League of Financial Institutions, Independent Financial Marketing Group Inc. is making a big push into the Sunshine State.

The endorsement, which came in May, positions Independent as the preferred provider of investment products, support, and even salespeople to the thrift trade group's 65 member institutions.

The nod is a real door-opener, said Andrew Swart, Southeast regional marketing director for the White Plains, N.y.-based company.

"The league's members simply feel more comfortable meeting with us" than with other investment product marketers, he said.

Interest Picking Up

While Independent Financial hasn't signed any institutions as a direct result of the trade group's endorsement, Mr. Swart said the firm has a verbal agreement with one bank and indications of interest from at least a dozen others.

William Hussey, president of the Orlando-based. trade group, said the endorsement is consistent with the league's role as a clearinghouse for its members.

Unlike some associations that make a regular practice of endorsing vendors and suppliers, the Florida league limits its recommendations.

"We give two, maybe three endorsements a year, if even that," Mr. Hussey said.

The Independence Factor

The league especially liked the fact that Independent isn't owned by or aligned with any particular mutual fund company or annuity supplier, Mr. Hussey said.

Independent hopes to use the endorsement to build upon its modest foundation in Florida.

Sunshine State clients include Miami's American Savings Bank, which switched last year from Portland, Ore.-based Marketing One; and Tampa's Bay Financial, which launched a brand new program earlier this year.

|A Matter of How and When'

Thrift executives are responsive to marketing investment products, seeing this as a way of maintaining customer relationships and competing with commercial banks, Mr. Swart said.

"It's not a matter of, |Is it a good idea?' It's a matter of how and when."

In addition to mutual funds, Independent Financial provides banks and thrifts with the ability to offer annuities by placing its own salespeople in rented areas within branches. Florida insurance laws prohibit bank employees from offering annuities in branches.

Provides Compliance Advice

"We make it very clear that we are leasing space from the bank and that the bank isn't selling the annuities," Mr. Swart said. "This distinction is the big issue."

Independent's sales representatives must also make clear to customers that they are not buying insured investments.

Independent uses Shutts & Bowen, a Miami law firm, to help client banks make sure they stay on the straight and narrow, when setting up annuity and mutual fund marketing programs.

"Helping a bank address compliance issues is an important part of what we offer," Mr. Swart said.

"We offer more than high quality investment products and services. We provide our clients with a high degree of comfort as well."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.