NU Online News Service, Oct. 10, 1:10 p.m. – Michael Gilotti wants to make The Phoenix Companies Inc., Hartford, a bigger player in the bank life insurance market.

“Increasing sales [of life products] in banks is easy,” Gilotti says.

But Gilotti admits increasing bank life sales will be easy “because we don’t have a strong presence there now.”

Phoenix recently promoted Gilotti to executive vice president of wholesaling, distribution and marketing, from head of annuity sales. His new responsibilities include greatly expanding the company’s modest bank distribution effort.

Phoenix dipped its toe in the channel with a fixed annuity in May 2001. After gradually increasing its bank annuity sales, the company now wants to increase sales of life products to banks’ affluent customers.

Many of the 147 wholesalers on the Phoenix team will now be working more closely with banks, Gilotti says.

“It’s not something where we are going to be satisfied with marginal increases in bank sales,” Gilotti says. “We want banks to be an integral part of our overall business. We decided to dedicate some resources to the task and hired some people who are truly specialists in the banking arena.”

The specialists are James Polhemus, now a senior vice president, and Richard Sippel, now vice president of bank distribution at The Phoenix Companies’ Phoenix Home Life Variable Insurance Company unit.

Polhemus comes to Phoenix from Strategic Financial Solutions, White Plains, N.Y., a bank insurance consulting firm owned by the Sage Group Ltd., Johannesburg. He will be responsible for his company’s overall bank strategy, including developing partnership deals with banks to sell annuities and insurance.

Sippel will be responsible for developing existing bank relationships. He had previously been a regional vice president at Keyport Life Insurance Company, a unit of Sun Life Financial Services of Canada Inc., Toronto.

Phoenix hired a number of Keyport’s annuity specialists late last year, after Sun Life acquired Keyport.

The sudden addition of experienced annuity producers helped Phoenix decide that it was time to get into the bank market, Gilotti says.

In July, Phoenix gained additional ammunition for expanding into the bank channel when it acquired the variable life and variable annuity business of Valley Forge Life Insurance Company, a subsidiary of CNA Financial Corp., Chicago.

That acquisition brought Phoenix more than 12,600 contracts carrying a total account value of about $624 million.

Polhemus and Sippel have been in the bank arena for a long time, and they have extensive contacts at financial institutions, Gilotti notes.

Phoenix already has 15 bank relationships, including pacts with Webster Financial Corp., Waterbury, Conn.; SouthTrust Corp., Birmingham, Ala.; and Nexity Financial Corp., also in Birmingham.

“In the short time Polhemus and Sippel have been with us, they have contacted another 25 out of 100 banks we’ve targeted,” Gilotti says.

Once Phoenix makes inroads at banks with its annuities, the company plans to encourage banks with large numbers of wealthy clients to use its life products. Phoenix also will pursue relationships with institutions that have significant private banking relationships involving extensive estate planning.

The estate-planning clients will be prime candidates for sales of variable and second-to-die life insurance products, Gilotti observes.

Phoenix will also work with banks that are already selling large amounts of life insurance.

Phoenix will go after banks in all areas of the country, but Gilotti sees the South, including Texas, and the Northeast as special “pockets of opportunity” for his company’s wealth-management products.