Horace Greeley would have nothing on VantisLife Insurance Co.

VantisLife, of Windsor, Conn., plans to "go west" by selling its life insurance products through banks in the Midwest and California.

As of Nov. 30 the company was selling its insurance products through 70 banks, up 17% from a year earlier, according to Craig Simms, its senior vice president of marketing. But it is barely scratching the surface of a "national opportunity," he said — he expects to seal 50 new banking relationships in the next two years.

"Most of our existing bank and credit union relationships are east of the Mississippi River," Simms said. "We had a good year in 2009 in terms of growth, but really we just focused on the East. We see a real growth opportunity in the Midwest and California."

In those regions there are as many as 280 banking companies and credit unions with assets of $1 billion to $20 billion — VantisLife's "sweet spot," Simms said. By widening its focus it expects to increase its relationships 30% to 40% annually over the next two to three years, he said.

"These community and midtier banks are really underserved," Simms said. "The megabanks get a lot of attention from some life insurers, but everyone else gets kind of lost in the shuffle."

VantisLife announced in January that it had hired Darcy Kleman as its Midwest business development director and Michael Gaab at its West Coast business development director.

Kleman, who is at a new VantisLife office in Schaumburg, Ill., was a vice president of relationship management at Allstate Financial Distributors. Gaab, who is based in a new office in Sacramento, was a regional sales manager for Allstate.

"For the time being, these folks are going to manage and begin wholesaling for us in these regions," Simms said. "When we see business begin to develop, we will add wholesalers to support them."

VantisLife plans to target banks that have never sold life insurance, banks that have been unsuccessful selling life insurance and banks that have never sold it. "It is going to take some time to get traction, because though there are some banks that we are going to be able step right in and begin selling, there are some that have never sold life products before," he said. "Our goal in year one in the Midwest and the West is to bring on 20 new banks, and then we would like to increase that to 30 new banks in 2011."

Analysts said that VantisLife will be competing with Great West Lifeco Inc. and Symetra Financial for business in the Midwest and California.

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