An Ohio community bank is jumping into the investment products business, signing on with two marketing companies for help in selling annuities and mutual funds.

Second National Bank, a $798 million-asset bank in Warren, Ohio, is one of the rare new entrants in the investment products field, which was attracting banks in droves just two years ago.

Darryl E. Mast, a vice president at Second National, said the company is getting into investment sales in response to demand from its high-net-worth customers. Second National has a flourishing private banking and trust business, with $400 million under management, he noted.

Second National had been considering offering investment products since 1993, but needed time to select the right products and service providers.

"We don't want to look like experimenters in the marketplace," Mr. Mast said. "Now we've come up with something that's a keeper." The sales effort will cover 26 branches in five counties.

The bank has selected Laughlin Group, a Beaver ton, Ore.-based marketing firm, for sales help in marketing mutual funds. Second National's unusually broad product menu includes 31 mutual funds from Putnam Investments and 27 from Oppenheimer Management Corp.

The company also hired DenMark Financial Services, Beechwood, Ohio, for assistance in marketing annuities. The company is an established annuities processor with strong links to insurance companies, Mr. Mast said.

The bank will offer four fixed annuities and one variable annuity. Product providers include Midwestern National Life, American National Life, United of Omaha, All American Life, and Life of Virginia.

To get the sales effort under way, Second National has hired four brokers with Series 7 licenses, which allow them to market a wide range of investments. One of the brokers, an attorney with a trust background, will focus on some of the bank's wealthiest clients.

Mr. Mast said customers' interest in investment products surfaced in a series of focus groups in late 1993. One point customers were adamant about was that they would not be interested in buying investments today from yesterday's customer service representatives.

"We didn't make the mistake of rolling out a program that doesn't click with clients," Mr. Mast said.

Second National also paused to gauge what requirements regulators would impose on bank investment product programs. Some definitive guidance finally came last year, in the form of the interagency statement on bank investment sales.

In the meantime, Second National had checked out what other banks were doing, and compiled its own list of do's and don'ts.

It's easy to see why community banks like Second National are pushing into the investment business, said James J. Fridl, president of Cross Marketing Corp., an investment marketing firm in Peapack, N.J.

"You're talking about products that are really needed by their clients, who are buying them outside the bank," Mr. Fridl said.

"If a community banker does not have a lot of services that allow him to compete, then he's going to become extinct," he added.

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