A unit of New England Mutual Life Insurance Co. is relying on some heavy marketing muscle to promote its new flexible-payment variable annuity.

To distribute the product, two top industry guns have been hired - William A. Campagna, former senior vice president and director of insurance products at Putnam Investments, and Kenneth J. Schweiger, former vice president of business development at Keyport Life Insurance Co.

Mr. Campagna will be vice president of broker-dealer distribution, a post established to increase variable annuity product sales among investment servicers.

Mr. Schweiger will be vice president of bank distribution. Both executives were officially elected to their newly created posts at New England Mutual's June 21 board meeting.

The novel feature of the annuity is its contract, which allows customers a plan guaranteeing a payout option until the customer's 100th birthday.

The product, known as the American Growth Series, will also waive the fee on a contract when the customer has a terminal illness, lives in a nursing home, or has a permanent or total disability.

"That feature alone will change the way people view the rest of the products," said Bruce Long, president of New England Annuities, a unit of New England Mutual Life.

Industry observers had mixed reactions to the unveiling of the annuity. Most said that New England Annuities had created a product from the best features of the variable annuities already on the market.

One observer, who asked that his name not be used, pointed out that the fee waiver is advantageous to investors with terminal illness and their families, who are paying for critical care. Features like the fee waiver will become the norm in the next six to nine months, observers said, since the annuity market is competitive.

Mr. Long said variable annuities are popular among those 45 and older. Members of this demographic group are often completing payments on a home mortgage or paying off a higher education loan; the next hurdle will be retirement.

"Retirement may have actually become an experiment that failed in the 1990s," Mr. Long said. "It is not unusual to live 20 or 30 years into retirement. So annuities are clearly going to be the vehicles, and clearly going to be annuitized."

The New England Annuities product has been approved in 41 states, and the unit is signing up marketing companies to sell it.

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