Banks are opening more shelf space for variable annuities, and that is translating into dramatic jumps in sales for some insurance companies.

Although the Hartford remains unchallenged as the top seller of variables through banks, companies like Pacific Life and Fortis are starting to enjoy more success, according to Kenneth Kehrer Associates, Princeton, N.J.

Fortis sold $43 million of variables through banks in the third quarter, up from $25 million during the second quarter, a Kehrer study found. Pacific Life saw its variable sales through banks rise to $50 million, from $29 million. That translates into a sales jump of more than 70% for each company.

The two biggest sellers of variable annuities through banks, Hartford and Nationwide, also saw their sales rise in the third quarter. The Hartford's sales rose to $869 million, from $798 million, and Nationwide's rose to $368 million, from $268 million.

But the gains by the smaller players were more striking, said Kenneth Kehrer, principal at Kehrer Associates.

"There are some signs now that shelf space is opening up and new players are trying to get in there," he said.

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