Bank sales by Putnam Allstate Advisor, a variable-annuity joint venture of Allstate Life Insurance Co. and Putnam Investments, are rising, an executive says.

First-year sales totaled $1.53 billion, 34% of it through banks, said the executive, John Hunter, managing director of Northbrook, Ill.-based Allstate Distributors LLC.

"Banks will sell a larger share of variable annuities," Mr. Hunter said. "People are getting older, and variable annuities are a retirement tool."

Industrywide, sales of variable and fixed annuities through banks climbed 38% last year, to $26.5 billion, and 19% in 1998, according to a survey by Kenneth Kehrer Associates of Princeton, N.J. Last year's increase included a 54% rise for fixed annuities and a 25% rise for variables.

Putnam Allstate Advisor annuities are issued by Allstate Life Insurance Co. and underwritten by Allstate Distributors. Bank distributors include California Federal Bank, PNC Bank, Summit Bank, HSBC Bank, Wachovia Bank, and Invest, a broker-dealer that sells insurance products through smaller banks.

Putnam Allstate plans to introduce more annuity products this year. This month, for example, it will start offering C shares of its variable annuity. Investors in C shares pay no up-front charge but pay higher expenses over time; so far the annuity has been sold only with up-front and back-end sales charges.

Boston-based Putnam Investments manages $380 billion for more than 12 million individual shareholder accounts and 1,000 institutional clients. Its retail arm has been renamed Putnam Retail Management to reflect the fact that Putnam sells more than mutual funds.

Cheryl Winokur contributed to this article.

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