In an effort to strengthen its banking channel sales, Fidelity Investments of Boston has promoted three executives to fill new management positions overseeing a department of 16 bank wholesalers.

Gary Cohen is now national sales manager for the bank broker/dealer channel and has two people reporting to him - Kirk Williamson, senior vice president, eastern division sales manager, and Scott Cousino, vice president, western division sales manager.

Cohen reports to William O'Grady, executive vice president of sales for Fidelity Investments Institutional Services Company. Before these appointments, Fidelity's 16 wholesalers reported to O'Grady.

All three executives had already been in various sales positions at Fidelity's Institutional Services Company.

Fidelity created these three new positions to manage growth and work more closely with its bank customers, said O'Grady.

"We have grown this business by more than 50 percent in the last one-and-a-half years," said O'Grady. "We did $2.5 billion in mutual fund and annuity sales through the banking channel in 1998. That was 20 percent of our business. This year, we expect it to reach $3 billion, or 22 percent of our total sales."

Cohen, Williamson and Cousino will work with Fidelity's relationship management division, O'Grady said. It is the relationship management division's responsibility to determine what services Fidelity can provide to each of the 600 banks it does business with and to help them expand their business, O'Grady said. It is now the job of Fidelity's three new banking channel executives to actually provide those services, he said.

"Relationship managers' first role is to talk to heads of banks to make sure we get on their short list," O'Grady said. "Secondly, they are responsible for making sure we are providing capabilities to our bank partners in all their different lines of business. This includes mutual funds, annuities, 401(k)'s, wrap business and financial consulting."

Wholesalers then have to shepherd these products through banks by training bank personnel about the products' strengths, O'Grady said

"With these three new hires, we hope to really become strategic partners with our banking partners," he said. "It's a huge market to cover. We have selling agreements with more than 600 banks, but as you can imagine, our strategic partnerships focus on the top 50."

These three new appointments will help Fidelity broaden and solidify its relationships with these banks, he said.

Three years ago, Fidelity had only seven bank wholesalers. O'Grady said the staff could grow even further.

The hires make sense because bank channel sales have been a bright spot for Fidelity, said Eric Kobren, executive editor of Fidelity Insight, a newsletter based in Boston.

"Of Fidelity's three distribution channels - retail, retirement and institutional - institutional was the only leg to bring in substantial net new assets in the past year," said Kobren. "Fidelity is simply trying to help the horse that has been running the fastest."

"In fact, when it comes to banks selling Fidelity funds, the fact that they sell it [offer it] doesn't mean that they are actually selling it," he said. "Sales don't always come through." The three executive hires should "help with order flows," he said.

It makes sense for Fidelity to hire three executives to oversee its wholesaling team because many of Fidelity's funds have improved performance lately, said David O'Leary, president of Alpha Equity Research in Boston. Alpha Equity Research tracks Fidelity for institutional clients.

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