Community First Bankshares of Fargo, N.D., is continuing its expansion with deals for two insurance agencies to pair with bank branches.

Brad J. Rasmus, Community First’s senior vice president of financial services, said the company uses a pairing strategy with all its insurance agency acquisitions. It buys agencies in towns where it has branches and moves the agency offices into the bank buildings.

Referring a banking customer to the insurance operation then is as easy as sending them next door. “We feel the need as an institution to continue to expand our relationships with customers,” Mr. Rasmus said. The shared sites help cement agencies’ identities as part of Community First, he added.

The two new deals — Barnard Insurance Agency in Casper, Wyo., and Oftedahl Insurance Services in Marshall, Minn. — would bring the company’s agency total to 43. Both Barnard and Oftedahl are property-casualty agencies, selling commercial and personal lines such as homeowners, auto, and umbrella liability. They also sell some life insurance, though not substantial amounts. Both deals were announced Jan. 8.

Most of the acquired agencies operate under the Community First Insurance name, as would the two newest additions.

As the 14-year-old banking company has grown, it has bought branches with insurance operations, but only in recent years has it aggressively sought agency acquisitions, Mr. Rasmus said. “The majority of our agencies are in the Midwest at this point,” he said.

He declined to disclose specific acquisition plans but said the company would look westward to match its direction of growth.

Mr. Rasmus said the company is looking for agencies in all states where it operates. It wants agencies that are well-run and respected in their communities, with key agents willing to stay on under the new ownership.

The $6 billion-asset bank holding company has 155 branches in 12 states: Colorado, Wisconsin, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Iowa, and Wyoming. It owns property-casualty agencies in eight of those states but not in California, Arizona, New Mexico, or Utah.

Annual insurance revenues are about $10 million, Mr. Rasmus said. The two new agencies had combined revenues of about $655,000 in 2000, the company said. The purchase prices were not disclosed.

Jon G. Arfstrom, an analyst at Dain Rauscher Wessels in Minneapolis, said the deals were part of the company’s strategy to increase fee revenues. “The cross-selling opportunity is there,” he said, “but the company has a real focus on becoming less dependent on spread income and more dependent on other financial services income.”

The company “operates where they can typically be one, two, or three in their market,” he said, and its size and strength allows it to pick good agencies for acquisition.


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