The U.S. arm of Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada is developing a program aimed at boosting sales of its estate planning and business insurance products through banks.

Sun Life, whose U.S. headquarters are in Wellesley Hills, Mass., has sold through banks for 18 months. But it has only a tiny share of the market, having reaped just $500,000 in premiums last year.

"We are treating this as a complete scratch operation," said Kathy Sarvary, national sales director for bank distribution.

This year, she said, the company plans to sell between $1.5 million and $2 million of premiums through banks, which should account for 1% of its U.S. sales. She said she expects that in five years, the company will sell $5 million in premiums through banks, or 10% of its business.

Last year Sun Life U.S.A.'s premiums exceeded $40 million.

The company is targeting two groups. To affluent clients it will pitch insurance products that cover the taxes charged when an estate is passed to a beneficiary. For businesses Sun Life will offer succession insurance, which provides money to hire a replacement for an executive who has died, and continuation insurance, which lets the surviving partners buy out the deceased partner's share of the company.

Sun Life is looking to work through banks' private banking or trust areas, or their insurance agencies or financial planners, Ms. Sarvary said.

The bulk of Sun Life's bank business comes from four institutions, including First Union Corp. and First Chicago NBD. Sun Life plans to have 12 banks actively selling its products within 24 months, Ms. Sarvary said.

Its turnkey program, which will be rolled out in the second half, provides a standardized package of products, training, service and support tailored to banks.

"We feel very comfortable that it will bring us increased sales," Ms. Sarvary said.

The bulk of Sun America's sales are through wire houses, brokers, and career agents.

Sun America is up against plenty of competition in the estate planning and business insurance arenas-including big insurance carriers such as Hartford and Manulife-as well as third-party marketers and "producer groups," or brokers and agents that band together to sell multiple insurance companies' products to wealthy clients.

The carrier may have more success selling business insurance than estate planning products, said David Kaytes, managing vice president of First Manhattan Consulting Group, New York.

"Business succession and continuation lines have good growth potential, particularly because of all the new business start-ups that boomed during recent market upturn," Mr. Kaytes said. "Core products for the affluent have been less vibrant than many had hoped, mostly because the area has been chased so long and so vigorously."

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