Jackson National Life has made inroads in its sale of life insurance and annuities through banks in the Northeast.

The Lansing, Mich.-based insurer has pushed into as many as 100 bank companies in the region, including Citizens Bank, Providence, R.I.; BankBoston Corp.; and Summit Bank, Westfield, N.J., said Bradley J. Powell, Jackson National's vice president of financial institutions.

The insurer now has a bank channel presence in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont, Maine, and Delaware.

And it's nearly ready to start selling insurance in New York State.

As a result of all the expansion, the bank channel division is likely to ring up more than $800 million in sales this year, up from about $240 million in 1994, Mr. Powell said. It has tallied record sales of more than $400 million through the first half, up nearly 60% from the same period last year.

Mr. Powell expects sales to reach $1 billion next year, thanks largely to the addition of the New York market. The company has set up a New York State subsidiary, First Jackson National Life Insurance Co., to comply with the state's web of regulations.

It has no staff yet, but should start selling insurance early next year, Mr. Powell said.

"New York is a great market for annuities and life insurance, bank or nonbank," he said.

Jackson National sold $4.6 billion of premiums in 1996, through the bank, broker-dealer, and pension markets.

The insurer's push into Northeast banks has been successful because of aggressive marketing and willpower by Mr. Powell, who joined the company three years ago, and his staff. But the timing is right as well. Over the past two years, Northeast states have eased regulations limiting bank insurance sales. The states have been among the last in the country to do so.

Jackson National isn't the only insurer to see the opportunity; it's facing competitors like The Hartford and AllAmerica, said Valerie Jordan, a consultant from Belchertown, Mass.

"The Northeast has some very, very attractive points of distribution for these products," Ms. Jordan said. "When you take into consideration BankBoston, Fleet. All the big guys are up here."

But Jackson National should continue to do well because of its marketing efforts-including CD ROM overviews of its products-and a willingness to listen to banks' needs, said Ms. Jordan.

One particular product tailored to the bank market-a type of whole life insurance that pays a guaranteed rate of interest-should help distinguish Jackson National from its rivals, she said.

Jackson National's bank channel business has grown not only in the Northeast but also in the company's strongholds, the Midwest and the West.

Once a small component of Jackson National, the bank division has taken off since 1994, when the company hired Mr. Powell from Keyport Life, where he directed annuity sales through banks.

The division, based in Atlanta, sells through more than 1,000 banks either directly or through third-party marketers-10 times more than in 1994. And third-party marketers now account for one-third of its business through banks, compared with none three years ago.

Mr. Powell and his staff expanded the product menu for banks to include variable annuities, more kinds of fixed annuities, and more life products.

Jackson National's bank division has not found every area of the country as hospitable as the Northeast. It has had a hard time cracking the Southeast, something Mr. Powell hopes to reverse with the imminent hiring of a new chief wholesaler for that region.

Ms. Jordan, the consultant, said the Southeast is tougher to crack because regional insurance carriers have aggressively targeted their home turf, providing stiff competition for their Midwest-based competitor.

Jackson National "is not a household name," Ms. Jordan said, adding that Mr. Powell "is getting the message out there that 'We're a player in this marketplace and we're not gonna go bye-bye.'"

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