It's not easy being Wayne Flanagan.

As a mutual fund "wholesaler," he spends his days charging around the Northeast urging just about any banker who will listen to market his company's funds.

Some bankers brush him off within minutes. Some don't even bother to keep their appointments with him. But Mr. Flanagan, like wholesalers across the country, just keeps on pushing -- a fearless foot soldier in the mutual fund revolution.

Indeed, for all the setbacks they may suffer, wholesalers are playing a huge role in the spectacular boom in fund sales at banks. At last count, some 60% of all mutual fund sales by banks involved products of outside firms like Oppenheimer, Franklin Resources, and Fidelity Investments.

Fighting Harder than Ever

Now, as banks begin to shorten their lists of preferred products, wholesalers are fighting harder than ever to make sure their funds get on the lists.

For a sense of life on the front lines, the American Banker recently accompanied Mr. Flanagan for a day as he made his rounds in Manhattan.

Mr. Flanagan, the top k wholesalers at Oppenheimer Management Corp., has logged three years in the field, including one with another fund firm.

As a result, it's a fair guess that he's compensated handsomely. Seasoned wholesalers earn anywhere from $150,000 to $620,000, largely in commissions, according to Cerulli Associates, Boston.

But life is anything but cushy for this boyish-looking 38-year-old. As Mr. Flanagan tells it, his days have become a whirlwind of "planes, trains, and automobiles," as he travels from his home in New Hampshire to bank branches from northern Maine to midtown Manhattan.

"If my wife and I had kids, it would have to be by Fedex," he quipped.

8:15 a.m. -- Mr. Flanagan has rolled out of bed, donned a banker-like uniform, and dashed downstairs to a Marriott hotel lobby for his first meeting of the day: breakfast with David P. Dashner, a registered representative of Cigna Financial Advisors Inc., the investments arm of Marine Midland Bank.

First come the pleasantries: How are the wife and kids? What's new?

Finally, between bites of thick French toast, Mr. Flanagan runs through some new products that Mr. Dashner might want to push. "Are you going to make me very happy?" Mr. Flanagan asks.

When the hour-long breakfast is over, the wholesaler has bagged a big order.

10:15 a.m. -- With his cropped blond hair blowing, Mr. Flanagan hurries down the stairs to the subway in the bowels of the World Trade Center. Thirty-three floors above, most other Oppenheimer employees sit in cushy offices as Mr. Flanagan burns holes in his black shoes.

He checks his subway map to figure out the stop for his next meeting. It's with a new client at a Citibank branch on lower Fifth Avenue. Doing business with a new client takes a lot more work for less return, but it's essential to keep bringing in new business, he says.

10:30 a.m. -- He glides into the branch right on time for the appointment. But suddenly, something seems wrong.

"I'm sure he said 10:30," Mr. Flanagan tells a secretary as she nervously explains why her boss is outside the bank.

The wholesaler doesn't miss a beat. "That's O.K.," he assures her. "If he had a chance to make some money, he should go do it. I'm just a vendor."

11:30 a.m. -- Mr. Flanagan hustles down Fifth Avenue, methodically switching gears for his next meeting. It is with Brian De Camp, a financial consultant at the investment services unit of Dime Savings Bank. They have known each other since 1987, when Mr. Flanagan worked at Invest Financial Corp.

"We had fun back then, didn't we?" Mr. De Camp asks.

Between the collegial banter, Mr. Flanagan tries to get a fix on what the broker has been selling lately. Apparently, it hasn't been Oppenheimer's funds.

It is Mr. Flanagan's job to figure out what Mr. De Camp really wants. Right now, that seems to be lunch.

Noon -- The two men order up burgers at Rusty Staub's, a midtown restaurant, and settle into some heavy-duty "relationship building." So long as it translates into sales, entertaining is just part of the job.

Amid the the idle chatter, however, a subtle but familiar subtext plays out. The wholesaler is fishing for information about how he can meet his customer's needs. Nothing firm materializes, but Mr. Flanagan is convinced the time was well spent.

2:15 p.m. -- Back at the Dime branch, Mr. Flanagan pays his respects to the other sales representatives. "You don't want to leave anyone out," he says.

Not everyone in the office welcomes the sight of a wholesaler nosing around for business

"That rep always picks up the phone and pretends he's busy when I come by," Mr. Flanagan notes, pointing to a banker starting intently at his Rolodex.

Indeed, sometimes wholesalers can be intrusive.

"You have to push them back a little," said Mr. De Camp. "I don't like it when they call too much." He said he meets with about four wholesalers every month.

But as Mr. Flanagan's visit to Dime proves, the relationship between bank sales representatives and wholesalers can clearly be constructive for both parties.

One sales rep has some questions about rating on Oppenheimer's Main Street Funds.

"They're rated five-star by Morningstar," Mr. Flanagan replies. Having captured her attention, he asks if she's looked at the material on another product.

"Let me give you the quick-and-dirty on this fund," he says.

3:00 p.m. -- Sitting in a taxi, Mr. Flanagan checks his scuba diver's watch. which is not just for show. When he's not on the road, he's sometimes swimming with fish, sailing, skiing, playing golf, or flying. But for now, he's stuck in traffic.

When he arrives at the Citibank branch on the Upper East Side, his client is busy with a customer.

What might he accomplish with this appointment? The Citibank investment counselor describes the meeting in broad terms.

"His job is to come and visit me and make sure I'm happy," he says. But Mr. Flanagan wants to make sure the client is both happy and selling his products.

"Can i leave you with an idea?" he asks, attempting to show his client how to use some new marketing material.

"It's too complicated," the client complains.

Oh, well. Some meetings go better than others. But the resourceful wholesaler is never lacking in ways to reach even the most guarded of bankers. And Mr. Flanagan has another plan up his sleeve for wooing Citibankers. It will unfold shortly.

3:45 p.m. -- Zipping back downtown by cab to collect his overnight bag at the hotel, Mr. Flanagan takes out his cellular phone - a modern must for the traveling salesman.

Precariously connected by a coil to the cigarette lighter on the dashboard, he stretches forward to dial Michael Risko, the service representative at Oppenheimer who covers Mr. Flanagan's territory by phone.

"Please don't stop short," Mr. Flanagan asks the driver.

4:00 p.m. -- Stopping at his hotel, Mr. Flanagan collects his clothes and a supply of freebie flashlights imprinted with Oppenheimer's logo. Then he rushes to Oppenheimer's headquarters at the World Trade Center.

On the way he makes a quick stop. Having discovered he's out of cash during the ride downtown, he swings by an automated teller machine to replenish his wallet. Despite his constant visits to bank branches, he barely has time for his own banking.

4:15 p.m. -- He meets Mr. Risko and John Wallace, an Oppenheimer portfolio manager, in the lobby of the Trade Center and again head uptown by subway to a Citibank office just blocks away from his midday meeting. A major "dog and pony show" is about to get under way.

5:00 p.m. -- After introducing Mr. Wallace, the star of tonight's show, Mr. Flanagan steps aside while the portfolio manager plays to a room packed full of about 25 Citibank sales reps. Mr. Flanagan often stages two meetings like this every week.

6:15 p.m. -- This evening, Mr. Flanagan finishes early. After treating his colleagues to a quick drink, he starts his journey home to New Hampshire. It's Thursday and he plans to spend Friday catching up on administration and scheduling new appointments.

While Mr. Flanagan thrives on the frenetic pace, he knows there is a burn-out point. He's put in three years as a wholesaler, preceded by four years as a bank broker, one as a financial planner, three with Prudential Bache, a couple of years with John Hancock, and some time on the slopes as a ski bum.

A spot behind a desk is starting to sound attractive, he says. For now, though, it's another week on the road.

On Handling the Zealous 'Wholesaler'

Few things are more annoying to bankers than overzealous wholesalers from mutual fund companies. But these salespeople also can be valuable sources of information about products and competitors.

"The key to using wholesalers is letting them know what you want and what you don't want," said Kathleen Bradshaw, sales manager at Indiana Federal Bank for Savings, Valparaiso, Ind.

"I know a lot of banks are afraid of wholesalers and keep them at arm's length, because they are worried they are going to come in and take too much control," she added.

A Short Leash

The trick, Ms. Bradshaw says, is to monitor all wholesalers closely - who they meet with at the bank, what they say, and how often they come around.

She also keeps tabs on the perquisites they offer to sales representatives.

Wholesalers "wine and dine them or send them a case of steaks and try to buy their business," Ms. Bradshaw said. "I don't want wholesalers thinking they can buy my reps."

She also objects to wholesalers who use "scare tactics" and those who criticize one representative who is not selling their funds in front of another one.

"some wholesalers can be weasels," she said.

All the same, Ms. Bradshaw and others say, wholesalers often provide solid support in sales and marketing.

Source of Information

"We get a lot of ideas from vendors about where the market is going," said Michael Diver, who heads up the mutual fund division at U.S. Bancorp, Portland, Ore.

"They are excellent in working with you to come up with flyers, posters, or mailings," added Linnea Boaz, who works in U.S. Bancorp's packaged products department.

Mutual fund companies that have sales forces dedicated to the bank channel are a plus, Ms. Boaz said. "Understanding the bank culture is very helpful."

Mutual fund firms also help banks finance internal competitions. New York-based Oppenheimer Management Corp., for example, sponsors referral contests for tellers. The teller who makes the most referrals over a certain period gets a dinner on Oppenheimer.

Wholesalers can also alert bankers to important shifts in the competitive landscape.

"I really depend on them for feedback about what the competition is doing," Ms. Bradshaw said.

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