New York Life Insurance Co. does some of its annuity business through banks-but not much.

This year agents for the New York City-based insurer have sold $1.2 billion of annuities while banks have brought in no more than $50 million.

Ed Wilson, who signed on in May as senior vice president and chief sales officer for New York Life's annuity business, said he aims to change that.

Mr. Wilson, who previously held executive posts at Golden American Life, Van Eck Global Mutual Funds, and Keyport Life, said he wants to sell $300 million of annuities through banks by 2000 and another $700 million through stockbrokers.

Some observers characterize the insurer's two-year-old bank channel operation as a flop, but Mr. Wilson said the company has gone slowly to avoid alienating its 10,000-agent sales force.

Company executives also wanted assurance that banks are a viable distribution channel, said Mr. Wilson. "As a result of that effort, we are going to make a full-court press into it," he said.

Some say it will take a full-court press to get New York Life onto banks' radar.

"It's like they never really started" selling through banks, said Kenneth Kehrer, a consultant in Princeton, N.J. "Most banks don't know they're in" the bank channel.

Mr. Wilson, 53, is searching for a national sales manager and plans to hire a dozen wholesalers by year's end to call on large banks. New York Life's third-party marketers - BankMark of Morris Plains, N.J., and JMC Inc. of San Diego - will remain in place. He also has begun hiring a dozen people for an internal sales desk to assist bank agents and others selling annuities.

And New York Life, which sells only variable annuities through banks, plans to add fixed annuities to the menu early next year.

Before May, New York Life's bank efforts were overseen on an ad hoc basis by David Krystel, a vice president who handles administrative assistance and technical support for annuity sales.

New York Life's two biggest banks-Fleet Financial Group and Star Bank Corp.-are served by BankMark.

By the end of 1998, Mr. Wilson said, he wants to be selling annuities through 50 banks, not to mention signing up wire houses and regional brokerage firms. He said he knows cracking the competitive bank marketplace is easier said than done despite New York Life's 150-year track record and its financial strength.

"We realize getting into these channels is going to be difficult," he said. "We don't think just because we're New York Life we're going to get market share."

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