The new alliance between Wells Fargo & Co. and American Express Co. is more than a distribution agreement: It initiates a joint product development effort by the two financial giants.

The San Francisco banking company's agreement with American Express Financial Corp. - a Minneapolis-based division of the New York financial services company, which is best known for its charge cards - was kicked off Thursday with the launching of two jointly developed annuity products. The Wells Fargo Advantage Variable Annuity and the Wells Fargo Advantage Builder Variable Annuity are underwritten by American Enterprise Life Insurance Co., another Amex unit, and built around Wells Fargo's Stage Coach Mutual Funds.

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