The Independent Bankers Association of Texas has selected a Minnesota marketing firm to reenergize an investment products program that was sidelined by scandal.

Primevest Financial Services won an endorsement to pitch mutual fund and annuity sales programs to the trade group's 810 member banks, beating out three other big investment product marketing companies.

The Texas association struck a similar agreement with a Houston brokerage firm, the MMAR Group, last May.

But in November, the trade group revoked the endorsement because the brokerage had become swept up in a regulatory probe and a lawsuit. MMAR Group, which has since exited the securities business, has denied any wrongdoing.

The about-face underscored that for banks and their trade groups an alliance with an investment product marketer is a sensitive affair, requiring research and monitoring.

When it reopened the bidding, the group narrowed its candidates to four companies -- Primevest, GNA Corp., Essex Corp., and Laughlin Group of Companies -- that specialized in serving banks, said Ramona Jones, president of IBAT Services. Bank sales programs were not a specialty of MMAR.

In addition, Ms. Jones said, all four finalists are highly capitalized firms with solid compliance records.

Primevest's systems, pricing structure, and focus on community banks ultimately gave the St. Cloud, Minn., company its edge, she said.

Primevest, a unit of Minneapolis-based Kinnard Investments, already operates full-service programs in 100 banks and discount brokerage services in 500 others.

First National Bank of LaGrange, Tex., is among the group of banks Primevest already serves. Joe Pritchett, president of the $66 million-asset community bank, said Primevest "really understands the softer approach banks prefer to take to selling."

Primevest plans to open a regional office and hire at least one account manager to support the Texas group's banks, said Kevin Kluesner, business development vice president at Primevest.

Banks will receive sales, marketing, and training support, among other services, Mr. Kluesner said.

Primevest's contract, which initially runs for three years, supplies the Texas association with certain fees, and charges banks a fee for signing on.

The handful of banks that had signed with MMAR will likely be the first to launch the new program, Ms. Jones said.

Primevest and the Texas group are aiming for 10%, or at least 80 banks, to sign on within the next few years, Mr. Kluesner said.

"This is a great situation for the banks and also lets the market know Primvest is indeed a player," Mr. Kluesner said.

Christopher Williston, president of the Texas group, said that despite the unpleasant experience with MMAR, he believes endorsements are still a valid way to help members.

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