When Arthur F. Ryan took the helm two years ago, observers said Prudential Insurance Co. was perfectly poised to push its wares through banks. After all, the new chairman was a veteran of Chase Manhattan Corp. and had spent four years as the bank's president.

But the nation's largest underwriter has been too busy fighting accusations of abusive sales practices to decide whether it wants to increase its bank presence. And should it make such a move, there's little evidence bankers would be interested. Their admiration for its chairman-who helped convert Chase Manhattan from a commercial lender to a global wholesale bank-has done little to convince them to get a piece of the rock.

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