Despite some disenchantment in recent years, Conseco Inc. chief executive officer Stephen Hilbert says he is still eyeing ways to boost his company's sales of insurance products through banks.

The financial services company, based in Carmel, Ind., is testing sales of long-term-care and Medicare supplement policies through a money-center bank, Mr. Hilbert said in a meeting Wednesday with American Banker editors. He declined to identify the bank.

Five years ago, in a bid to boost its fixed annuity sales through banks, Conseco bought a bank investment marketing firm, MDS/Bankmark. But today Bankmark is not offering any products from Conseco's many insurance subsidiaries-only those of other vendors, Mr. Hilbert said.

The reason? Mr. Hilbert said banks were demanding different and costlier product features than he was willing to offer, such as surrender penalties that phase out four to five years after an annuity is purchased.

"I thought we needed longer, not shorter, surrender penalties," he said. "We decided to focus our fixed annuity efforts on nonbanks."

Still, Mr. Hilbert stressed, Conseco has been quite pleased with the acquisition of MDS/Bankmark. It has 60 financial institution clients, up from 30 when Conseco bought it, and several of the programs are quite robust, he said.

And although Conseco is branching out in new directions-Mr. Hilbert was in New York chiefly to talk up the recent acquisition of Green Tree Financial Corp., a manufactured-housing lender-he still sees MDS/Bankmark as a fine fit.

"It's doing a decent job in maintaining itself. It's a distribution point we want to keep," he said.

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