The growth in bank sales Ohio National Life Insurance Co. has seen is a prime example of how a laissez-faire strategy, plus a little luck, can go a long way.

In late 1996, the company agreed to offer a proprietary variable annuity through Star Bank in its hometown of Cincinnati.

In November 1998, Star Bank’s parent, Star Banc Corp., bought Firstar Corp. and took its name. Firstar then bought Mercantile Bancorp. in 1999, and last month, its purchase of U.S. Bancorp was approved.

The initial agreement with Star Bank has survived all the mergers and remains the linchpin of Ohio National’s bank distribution, said John Palmer, its executive vice president for strategic initiatives.

Ohio National had $100 million of variable annuity sales in 2000, a big increase from $55 million in 1999 and mostly attributable to the banking partner’s growth. On the fixed annuity side — a channel Ohio National has only been in for a year — it had $200 million of sales through banks, all through Firstar. It also took in $400,000 of life premiums.

Still, Ohio National knows this windfall won’t last forever. “We are prepared to add a bank market development head, which we haven’t done yet,” Mr. Palmer said. “But in the coming months we want to add bank relationships and grow the business.”

Mr. Palmer said Ohio National has learned what banks expect from an insurance company. “Most issues center around the relationships they have with their customers,” he said. “It’s also important to get back to reps on questions in a timely matter.”

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