Karen and Dennis Defnet of Winneconne, Wis. have three annuities that pay them several thousand dollars a month combined. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)

Bank holding company sales of annuities rose 25% in the first half of 2011 over the first half the previous year, hitting a record $1.53 billion in income earned,  a hefty chunk of their total mutual fund/annuity income total, according to a report sponsored by the American Bankers Insurance Association.

Wells Fargo, which is branding now in major metropolitan cities, including Washington, D.C., where the Metro system walls prominently feature banner ads, was the top bank holding company (BHC) in annuity fee income for the first half of the year. Well Fargo’s nearly 20% increase in annuity income was followed, but not closely, by Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America.

The Michael White-ABIA Bank Annuity Fee Income Report, compiled by Michael White Associates, is based on data from all 6,805 commercial and FDIC-supervised banks and 934 large, top-tier bank holding companies operating as of June 30, 2011.

Three-fourths of BHCs with over $10 billion in assets earned first-half annuity commissions of $1.46 billion, constituting 95.2% of total annuity commissions reported by the banking industry, up 26.6% from annuity fee income in first half 2010, according to the report.  

Of the top BHCs, 41% participated in annuity sales activities during the first half of the year, and the $1.53 billion in annuity commissions and fees made up 12% of their total mutual fund and annuity income of $12.77 billion.

Of the 6,805 banks surveyed, 13% sold annuities, earning $401.1 million in annuity commissions, or a whopping 26.2% of the bank industry’s total annuity fee income. That is up almost 7% from the previous year’s first half.

To be sure, productivity seems to be on the uptick across the board. 

A key finding of a recent AXA Kehrer-LIMRA Monthly Monitor Survey report is that sales of both fixed and variable annuities, as well as mutual funds, elevated transactional productivity to its highest level since April 2010.

Even without the benefit of quarterly fee revenue, monthly fees were sufficient to drive total productivity to its highest level since January of 2008.

Financial institutions have been successful in their drive towards recurring revenues to hedge against fluctuating sales environments, the report says.

Top annuity underwriters in the U.S. AIG, Allianz, American General, Aviva and AXA General, according to freannuityrates.com, using data from various rating agencies.