Sales of variable annuities by banks have been on the rise, while fixed annuities have lost their luster.

Sales of fixed annuities at banks-once a popular product with retail customers-have dropped precipitously in recent years, according to data compiled by Limra International, Hartford, Conn.

Variable annuities made up 45% of total annuity premiums last year, up from 25% in 1995.

Annuity sales at banks totaled $14.3 billion last year, up from $13.5 billion in 1995-a gain partly attributed to the popularity of variable annuities. Banks sold 13.6% of all annuities in 1996, about the same market share as 1995.

But the greater share of variable annuities brought to life a moribund annuity market. Sales of fixed annuities fell by 16% in 1995, when even returns on certificates of deposit looked more attractive, Limra reported.

The amount paid from a variable annuity depends on the performance of an investment portfolio, usually mutual funds with a changing rate of return. The traditional annuity has a predetermined rate of return.

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