Banks are narrowing down the number of mutual fund vendors they work with, but that doesn't mean fund companies have given up trying to get their attention.

One of the latest entrants to the bank channel is Phoenix Duff & Phelps Corp., which has struck an exclusive sales arrangement with a leading marketer of annuities through banks.

"We see banks as extremely important, but the barriers to entry have been rising," acknowledged John F. Sharry, senior vice president for mutual fund sales at the Hartford, Conn.-based firm.

Mr. Sharry said Phoenix should be able to make inroads in a crowded field by working with a partner - Planco Group of Paoli, Pa. - that already has a roster of bank clients.

Phoenix, which manages 17 mutual funds with $9 billion of assets, entered its alliance with Planco last summer. "We just weren't penetrating banks in a way that was meaningful," Mr. Sharry said.

So far, banks have contributed only 5% to the firm's mutual fund sales. He hopes to boost that to 15% next year and "ideally over the next two to three years, to 30%." Phoenix will start with six sales representatives dedicated to banks, a number Mr. Sharry hopes to increase.

The company is "certainly a bit late" to the bank sales scene, said Dennis Dolego, a partner at Financial Research Corp., Chicago. But he added that Mr. Sharry's 15% goal was reasonable. "If you've got the products and performance, you can still go at it aggressively."

Before the Planco arrangement, Phoenix employed only one salesman dedicated to banks - Douglas Tarella, a vice president.

Mr. Tarella will report to Mr. Sharry and manage the company's key accounts, including its relationship with Planco.

The push into banks is part of a corporate growth strategy to boost the firm's total assets under management to $80 billion from $35 billion.

Phoenix Securities Corp., which owns an insurance subsidiary along with mutual funds, merged with institutional money manager Duff & Phelps Corp. in November.

Mr. Sharry was brought in at the same time from Putnam Investments in Boston, where he was director of retail marketing and national sales manager for the broker-dealer division for two years.

At Phoenix he is in charge of overseeing the sale and marketing of mutual funds, annuities, and 401(k) products for banks, brokers, and financial planners.

Mr. Sharry fills a vacancy created in the spring, when John Filoo, senior vice president for retail sales and marketing, left the company.

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