Safeco Life and Investments has taken another next step to raise its visibility in the bank channel, hiring 20 wholesalers and new business officers dedicated to selling its annuities, mutual funds, and life insurance products through banks.

A new division, Safeco Financial Institutions Distribution, was created June 1.

Mike Karthaus, the president of the division, said that given all the new wholesalers now on staff, he expects to see a leap in the number of distribution agreements that the Seattle insurer has with banks. Right now it has 10, and he is aiming for 20 by the end of the month and 30 to 40 by yearend.

To accomplish this, Mr. Karthaus said, more wholesalers will be hired. “We’re still filling out the group,” he said. “I don’t know how many more people we’ll add, but the staff will be built up through the rest of the year.”

Safeco has never before had wholesalers working only with Safeco products. Its insurance, annuity, and mutual fund products have been wholesaled by Talbot Financial Corp., a multistate independent insurance brokerage network owned by Safeco Life’s parent company, Safeco Corp.

Talbot also sold other insurer’s products, so Safeco was not getting as efficient a wholesaling effort to banks as it will get under the dedicated team. Talbot will, however, continue to wholesale Safeco products to banks and other institutions.

Peter Patrino, the director of insurance ratings in the Chicago office of New York-based Fitch Inc., said the separate division is a good move for Safeco.

Though other insurance companies were quicker to expand their bank distribution, many establishing dedicated divisions, there is still room for Safeco, Mr. Patrino said. “For Safeco, banks are an opportunity.”

Safeco’s name and the fact that some banks already offer its products through Talbot give it an advantage over other companies trying to break into bank sales, Mr. Patrino said. “Most banks know who these guys are,” he said. “They have name recognition.”

Mr. Karthaus said early bank channel sales figures have made him optimistic. Since June 1, Safeco has sold $200 million of its new fixed annuity, Safeco Select, which has been distributed only through banks but will be offered through other channels down the road, the company said.

Safeco Select has a three-year interest rate guarantee, which has become popular with buyers through banks since the market’s downturn.

Safeco Select represents most of the company’s bank sales, Mr. Karthaus said. “About 90% of our bank sales right now are from fixed annuities and much of that is from Safeco Select.

“Certainly, we want to expand our sales figures in variable annuities, mutual funds, and life insurance,” he said, “but we’re fortunate to have a fixed-annuity product in the marketplace while we grow our other lines.”

The preponderance of fixed annuities could have more to do with the market than the products. Industry-wide, fixed annuities outsold variable annuities in banks 61% to 39%, according to a study by Kenneth Kehrer Associates of Princeton, N.J. The second-quarter results, expected soon, could show an even wider gap, the firm said.

Meanwhile, Safeco continues to push all of its products through banks. Most of the 10 banks that carry Safeco’s fixed annuities also carry its variable annuities, mutual funds, and life insurance products. Those banks range from $5 billion to $20 billion of assets, Mr. Karthaus said.

“We’re not targeting one size bank,” he said. “We’re mainly reaching agreements with regional banks, but we’re open to community banks and much larger banks.”

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