Cross Marketing Inc., a company that helps banks sell annuities and life insurance, has snared a potentially lucrative endorsement from the leading thrift trade association.

America's Community Bankers, a trade group that represents about 1,800 savings banks and savings and loans, has decided to recommend the Peapack, N.J., marketing firm to its member institutions.

The endorsement "amounts to a 'Good Housekeeping' seal of approval, which is very powerful," said James Fridl, chairman, president, and chief executive of CMI.

The exclusive endorsement gives Mr. Fridl's company an advantage over competitors. Member thrifts won't have to spend time researching CMI, knowing the company has the faith of the trade group behind it.

Mr. Fridl estimated that he could gain 10% of the membership as clients and generate at least an additional $180 million of annual sales for a company expected to total $250 million of revenue this year.

Cross Marketing was given the endorsement after a lengthy search for the right firm, said Thomas Pfeiler, president of ACB Insurance Services Inc., the trade group's insurance arm.

Mr. Pfeiler said he turned down several insurance firms that wanted the endorsement because they couldn't offer the diversity of products that a third-party marketing firm such as Cross Marketing can.

Cross Marketing promotes annuities and life insurance products of 17 insurance companies through 100 banking clients. It also trains bank representatives to sell insurance.

Founded in 1988 by Mr. Fridl, Cross Marketing is viewed as a middle- tier, third-party firm, overshadowed by institutions such as Essex Corp., Invest Financial Corp., and Liberty Financial Bank Group.

Richard Ayotte, president of American Brokerage Consultants Inc., minimized the potential boost endorsements can give a company like Cross Marketing.

But Mr. Fridl cited several differences between this arrangement and others. Many trade groups lock endorsed companies into prohibitive revenue- sharing agreements, he said, without providing marketing help to gain bank clients.

But as part of this endorsement, Cross Marketing will get free exhibit space at the trade association's conventions and regular plugs in its quarterly and monthly newsletters.

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