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AnnuityNet Inc. and Info-Onerivals in the annuity platform arenaare starting to turn Web-based distribution of annuities into a real business.

AnnuityNet and Info-One, the owner of the VARDS Trading annuity order-entry system, both spent years setting up distribution systems and attracting clients.

But now both companies have gone live.

Tim Lyons, vice president of sales channel technology services at Nationwide Financial Services Inc., Columbus, Ohio, praises both companies efforts.

“Its in everybodys interest to move to electronic applications,” Mr. Lyons said. Well-designed electronic systems “can deliver business to us in good order.”

Moving to systems that can do something as simple as ensuring that clients have come up with asset allocations that add up to 100 percent could make the annuity sales process more efficient and more profitable, he noted.

Executives at each company have questions about the other companys statistics, but AnnuityNet says it is handling about 30,000 transactions through its system each month.

The companys system is distributing more than 100 products for 11 insurers and has live connections to broker-dealers that have the ability to reach about one-third of the reps at banks, wirehouses and other financial institutions, according to Kristina Vaughn, the Herndon, Va., companys senior vice president of product development.

The company has developed an automated, XML-based system that will help it load about 60 more products in the next six weeks, Ms. Vaughn added.

A year ago, she said, insurers wanted to know whether the system would really work and whether sales reps would actually use it. Now, insurers have more confidence in the system because they see other big insurers and distributors using it, she said.

Today, “its a matter of getting the products up,” she said.

Putting products up is tougher than it sounds, and AnnuityNet is proud of a new, XML-based system that helps it get annuities online automatically, Ms. Vaughn noted.

Info-One, a Campbell, Calif.-based unit of Wachovia Corp. in Charlotte, N.C., is distributing 78 products from 26 insurers, and 100 more products are in the pipeline, company executives say.

The company concedes that a sister company, Wachovia Securities Corp., and the AIG Advisors Network, an arm of American International Group Inc., New York, are the only broker-dealers that are actually live. But those two broker-dealers alone reach more than 15,000 reps.

Info-One has agreements with other major broker-dealers–and it has the advantage that most annuity manufacturers and distributors already use its VARDS Online annuity research and marketing system, according to David Shapiro, Info-Ones chief executive.

“Were a data company and a transaction company,” Mr. Shapiro said.

AnnuityNet and Info-One are both heavily involved in efforts to shape and use XML standards.

Info-One has always used an annuity information format owned by the Depository Trust & Clearing Corp., New York.

DTCC recently announced that it will let companies in the industry use the format for free. AnnuityNet had been trying to promote its own product information format as a standard, but it is now adopting the DTCC format, Ms. Vaughn said.

Another trend affecting AnnuityNet and Info-One is the sudden surge in demand for fixed annuities.

AnnuityNet has responded by agreeing to add fixed annuity data from Beacon Research Inc. in Evanston, Ill., to its system.

Info-One will be putting up its own fixed-annuity databases later this year, Shapiro says.

Dozens of insurers are distributing through the systems.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, May 19, 2003. Copyright 2003 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved. Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.