Denis Kaplan, president of Independent Financial Marketing Group, goes the extra mile for his bank clients - literally.

Mr. Kaplan recently traveled from the company's White Plains, N.Y., headquarters to London to give a client a behind-the-scenes look at how financial institutions in Britain have marketed life insurance.

Mr. Kaplan, a native of South Africa, was able to arrange the access to British banks by calling on old contacts from his days as managing director of Sage Holdings, a large South African financial services group.

No Time Lost

Just a day after returning to the United States, Mr. Kaplan was in Richmond, Va., talking to executives at Crestar Bank about their company's joining the small but growing list of financial institutions that have launched proprietarn variable annuities.

Crestar is among the 76 financial institutions that Independcnt Financial counts among its clients.

As a third-party marketer, Independent Financial distributes other companies' mutual funds and annuities to banks. It does not manage investment products of its own.

Like most third-party marketing firms. Independent stresses that personalized service is its hallmark. But the company backs up this rhetoric with numbers. It has added 14 clients so far this year, bringing its roster to 76 banks. About two additional banks are signing up each month, Mr. Kaplan said.

The growth has helped make Independent the ninth-largest distributor of mutual funds and annuities through banks, with $550 million placed in 1992, according to Kenneth Kehrer & Associates, a consulting firm in Summit, N.J.

Independent boasts that it has never lost a client to a competitor, but the company is not above wooing banks away from rivals. In 1992, Independent picked up American Savings Bank of Florida, a $3 billion-asset thrift that had been served by Marketing One, a rival marketing firm in Portland, Ore.

Thomas Chen, American's senior vice president, said he liked Independent's responsiveness add flexibility. Pricing was also a factor in making the switch, but not a major one, he added.

Shopping Around

"It's always prudent to shop around and see what else is out there," said Mr. Chen, who began overseeing American's investment program a year and a half ago.

Mr. Kaplan said Independent's momentum will continue as it enters its second decade. The company was set up in 1983 as a financial planning firm and experienced ups and downs while going through a number of incarnations and owners.

Today, four senior managers, including Mr. Kaplan, own 75% of the firm. They acquired their stake through a management buyout in 1990.

The other 25% is owned by Coverdell & Co., an Atlanta financial services firm. The business has ties to the family of Sen. Paul Coverdell, R.-Ga., who won his seat last November in a highly publicized runoff election.

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