TCF Financial Corp. will be relying on Western National Life, Houston, to underwrite a fixed-rate annuity that will be sold through TCF's 265 branches in five Midwestern states. "TCF has one of the best-performing programs in the country," said John A. Graf, executive vice president, Western National Life. "We approached them based on their reputation as one of the country's most successful annuities sellers." The annuity assets will be managed by Western National but will be sold under TCF's name. That marks a departure from recent annuity deals Western National inked with Firstar Corp., Milwaukee, and First Union Corp., Charlotte, N.C., which allowed the banks to share in money management duties and fees. TCF Corp., a $7.3 billion asset thrift, is focused on sales income, not asset management, said Mary E. Sipe, president of TCF's insurance operation. The thrift offers only fixed-rate annuities and expects its sales to surpass $200 million this year, Ms. Sipe said. As a result of its high sales volume, and customer retention rates topping 96%, TCF commands some of steepest commissions in the industry, she said. While declining to disclose the commission schedule for the new product, she said TCF will collect sales fees "substantially higher" than the common 5% to 5.5%. The thrift has sold $1.2 billion in annuities since it entered the business eight years ago. Ms. Sipe attributes the thrift's success to its exclusive focus on fixed-rate products both customers and representatives can easily understand. "We don't need a lot of sizzle," she declared. Kenneth Kehrer, an annuities consultant based in Princeton, N.J., said that TCF has the best sales penetration of all of the major banks and thrifts that he tracks. The thrift's current fixed-rate annuities sales penetration is 4.4% of retail deposits, according to Mr. Kehrer. The measure is calculated by dividing a bank's yearly annuity sales by the total value of its retail deposits. Sales penetration averages 1.2% among major banks, he said. This marks the first time Western National and TCF have worked together, said executives at the firms. TCF's primary annuity provider will continue to be American Enterprise Insurance Company, a division of American Express Corp., New York, Ms. Sipe said. Aegon Insurance has been the secondary supplier. But Ms. Sipe said the thrift may reevaluate that company's role in the wake of the agreement with Western National.
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