About three weeks after it agreed to buy American Skandia Life Assurance Co., Prudential Financial Inc. has expanded its own product offerings to include a third fixed annuity.

The new Strategic Partners Horizon Annuity, like Pru’s seven other annuities, is not being marketed through banks. The Newark, N.J., insurance giant sells its five variable and two fixed products predominantly through Prudential Securities agents and a few independent broker/dealers.

But that could change once the purchase of variable annuity expert American Skandia is closed. American Skandia, the Shelton, Conn., subsidiary of the Swedish firm Skandia Insurance Co. Ltd., is a player in the bank channel with variable annuities, and once the companies are brought together, Prudential expects to use American Skandia’s distribution system to expand its reach.

But when the merger was announced Dec. 20, it was mainly American Skandia’s success with independent financial planners that Prudential touted. American Skandia is the biggest provider of variable annuities through independent financial planners. It has 1,350 independent distributors with 159,000 financial planners.

However, American Skandia does have a bank business as well, though it’s small. American Skandia had $54 million of variable annuity sales through banks in the third quarter, and that left it 15th among all variable annuity providers that peddle the product through banks.

When contacted last Tuesday, Prudential refused to comment further on a possible expansion into banks.

"We're still working on that transaction, and we're not in the position to talk about it right now," said Laurita Warner, a Prudential spokeswoman. "It’s hard to say how it's going to work."

Michael J. Barry, managing director of insurance for New York-based Fitch Inc., said the fact Prudential did not mention banks in its conference calls after the merger announcement could mean it is passing on the channel altogether.

"Maybe they’re loyal to their financial planners, and the financial planners have said they don’t want to compete with the banks," Barry said. "But I find it difficult to believe that they’re not interested in selling through banks. Banks are a big seller of annuities."

He also said that Prudential’s name would carry it a long way.

"My sense is, Prudential has one of the three best names in the national retail marketplace," Barry said. "It's MetLife, John Hancock and them."

Bob Wick, a principal at Cramer, Wick & Associates, a bank insurance consulting firm in Davidson, N.C., agreed that Prudential has the moniker to make it work.

"I think there's always room for a household name like Pru with banks," Wick said. "They can put a real positive spin on the acquisition, their commitment to variables, and launch a major new business development campaign."

Wick said that the company might have to hire a bank channel expert.

For what it’s worth, Prudential said three weeks ago that Wade Dokken, American Skandia’s president and chief executive officer, would be part of a transition team.

"It is clear that [Dokken] will stay on as a Prudential employee," said Prudential spokesman Bob DeFillippo in an interview the day the deal was announced.

Barry added that Prudential has a range of products that includes fixed and variable annuities and mutual funds.

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