When an insurance agency makes improvements in sales for 18 consecutive months, it's bound to get the attention of the company chairman of the board and chief executive officer.

The 18 consecutive months of increased sales is attributed to the National Life Insurance Co. agency, 3445 S. Main, where James V. Horton, is the general agent.Because Horton and his 14 full-times agent increased sales 64 percent from 1989 to 1990, Frederic H. Bertrand, the chairman of the board, came to Salt Lake City to see what Horton was doing right.

Bertrand said Horton's agency led the company in the Plus Month concept, which encourages increases every month over the previous month. "It is far and away our best agency," Bertrand said. Last year, the agency sold $34 million worth of insurance.

Whatever Bertrand learned about Horton's agency, he wants to incorporate into the other 54 general agencies of National Life, which has $4.5 billion in assets, 1,000 full-time agents and 5,000 brokers.

Horton said his agency focuses on the agents so each make a contribution. He said in a selling campaign last October, agent Grant Stewart led the Western Region in life insurance production. Horton said it is also beneficial for his agency to have a relationship with Beneficial Life Insurance Co., which uses National Life's disability and "second to die" estate planning insurance.

Because National Life is headquartered in Montpelier, Vt., Bertrand was asked about the impact the bankruptcy of the Bank of New England and rumors about insurance companies being in financial trouble will have on the economy.

He said reports about the Bank of New England reverberate through all financial institutions, including insurance companies. People are concerned about insurance companies because the only thing they hold is a piece of paper that is a promise to pay the face value and they hope the company will be around to fulfill the promise.

Bertrand said insurance companies have investments in stocks and bonds and, naturally, when the economy goes down, money could be lost. He said National Life has most of its money invested in Grade A bonds, and very little tied up in junk bonds, an indication of National Life's stability.

The insurance industry is one of the most heavily regulated in the country, Bertrand said, being told in what they can invest, what rates will be given and approval of policy language.