As one of the few banks that gets respect from traditional brokers, Great Western Financial Corp. plans to sell its own variable annuities through the brokerage industry.

The Chatsworth, Calif.-based thrift is hoping to follow up on its success in selling its proprietary fund family, Sierra Trust Funds, through brokerage houses and financial planners, said F. Brian Cerini, president of Sierra Capital Management Corp., Great Western's fund unit.

Just as mutual fund and insurance companies expand their sales distribution through banks, some financial institutions that manage their own mutual funds and annuities are recruiting brokerage firms and financial planners to sell their wares.

But bank-managed funds, which typically lack the name recognition or track records of other mutual funds, have trouble getting the attention of financial advisers. Great Western, however, has been selling its own funds through brokerage houses since 1992 and has built relationships with 500.

"Great Western certainly has more going in its favor than most financial institutions," said consultant Andrew Singer, managing director of the Bank Insurance Market Research Group, Mamaroneck, N.Y.

Its mutual fund and annuity portfolios have "pretty good track records," he said. Mr. Singer added that Great Western's mutual funds have gained name recognition in the West.

The $42 billion-asset thrift has generated more assets for its proprietary variable annuities than most competing bank products combined. Sierra Advantage has garnered $407.4 million since its inception in May 1993, according to Lipper Analytical Services, New York.

Mr. Cerini is shooting for $1 billion of total sales by late 1997 or early 1998.

About 40% of Sierra's mutual fund sales, or about $25 million a month, comes from brokerages and financial planning firms, including Merrill Lynch & Co., A.G. Edwards & Co., and Everen Securities.

Gaining a reputation among stockbrokers will help the bank's 320 brokers sell Great Western's own investment products, Mr. Cerini predicted.

"The fact that brokers around the U.S. are excited about it provides a tremendous amount of credibility," he said.

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