Phoenix Duff & Phelps Corp. has seen slow but steady progress in the year since it announced a big push to sell mutual funds and annuities through banks.

The company has landed selling arrangements with 15 banks and marketing firms so far, including SouthTrust Corp., Birmingham, Ala.; Robert Thomas Securities Inc., St. Petersburg, Fla.; and Investment Centers of America, Bismarck, N.D. As a result, sales through financial institutions have doubled over the past year.

But Jack Sharry, Phoenix's managing director of retail distribution, acknowledges that the company still has a long way to go. "The resources we have dedicated really didn't kick in until six months ago,"he said. "We're still in the early stages."

The efforts by Phoenix come at a time when a dozen or so mutual fund companies are so entrenched in the bank marketplace that few newcomers have a chance to crack it, observers say. Indeed, some fund companies that target banks have begun shifting their attention to independent financial planners.

Getting a foot in the door isn't enough. Fund companies also vie for preferential status, entering arrangements with banks that promise to promote their funds over those of competitors.

Phoenix, which manages $8.6 billion in assets, is counting on an arrangement it entered in July of 1995 with Planco Group, a Paoli, Pa.- based company that distributes investment products to banks, other marketing firms, brokerages, and financial planners.

Planco is building a sales force dedicated to selling Phoenix funds and variable annuities to banks, said John C. Kennedy, a national sales manager at Planco who oversees Phoenix's marketing to banks.

Since being promoted from sales representative in March, Mr. Kennedy has hired 11 sales reps. And he plans to bring aboard as many more by 1998.

"If we're not on 35 banks' short lists by January 1998, we've done something wrong," he said.

Planco for several years has made its name in the bank marketplace by exclusively marketing the annuities of ITT Hartford Life Insurance Co., garnering 150 bank clients. The company employs 24 sales representatives dedicated to selling ITT Hartford's wares to banks.

Before entering the marketing alliance with Planco, Phoenix had a nominal presence in banks; its 12 sales representatives marketed to brokerage firms and financial planners as well.

Geoffrey Bobroff, a consultant in East Greenwich, R.I., said Planco's "unique expertise" at marketing investment products should raise Phoenix's profile with bankers.

He noted, however, that two of the company's top selling portfolios, the Phoenix Balanced Fund and Phoenix Total Return Fund, recently lost portfolio managers and performance has 'turned soft."

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