As part of its acquisition of CNB Bancshares Inc., Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bancorp is getting a ready-made entrée into the retail insurance market.

"It's a nice jump-start for us," said Tom Williams, a vice president of Fifth Third Securities Inc. who is overseeing the integration of CNB's Civitas Insurance Inc. unit.

Fifth Third bought Evansville, Ind.-based CNB in October and expects to finish integrating customer accounts by March 17.

The Ohio company already had plans to develop a retail insurance agency, but the CNB deal makes this unnecessary, Mr. Williams said. Instead, Fifth Third is focused on introducing an array of products to its private bankers.

"When insurance came up in an estate plan, we would refer clients outside the agency," he said. "Now we can refer internally."

Civitas, which had about $10 million of revenues last year, sells mainly personal and commercial property and casualty insurance, title insurance, and employee benefits.

Fifth Third's insurance subsidiary, Fifth Third Insurance Inc., offers a platform for annuities sales but does not sell traditional insurance products other than credit coverage.

Though Civitas will trade referrals with the bank and eventually operate under the name Fifth Third Insurance, it will retain some autonomy, said Roger Forystek, its chief executive officer.

"We run as a parallel company," Mr. Forystek said. Civitas maintains stand-alone offices as well as putting agents in bank branches. About 3,000 to 4,000 of Civitas' customers are also bank customers, compared with 22,000 who are not, he said.

"People are really confused about how to market insurance within a banking environment," Mr. Forystek said. "At some levels," he said, such as selling property insurance to someone taking out a mortgage, "it's a natural fit." But an agency cannot depend on bank referrals for all of its business, he added.

"The most successful agencies owned by banks are the ones treated as a separate business unit, not just another product the bank sells," said John M. Wepler, a principal of Marsh, Berry & Co. in Concord, Ohio. "It's a whole separate industry with a separate set of challenges," he said.

Fifth Third is selling back another CNB subsidiary, the Wedgewood Partners Inc. brokerage, to one of its founders, Anthony L. Guerrerio, for an undisclosed sum.

Situated in Ladue, Mo., outside St. Louis, Wedgewood falls outside Fifth Third's banking footprint, and its operations largely duplicate those of Fifth Third Securities, Mr. Williams said.

Mr. Guerrerio, who sold his firm to CNB in 1998 for an undisclosed price, is to reacquire Wedgewood's asset management operation, the main part of its business, with about $150 million under management.

On the last weekend in February, Fifth Third converted the brokerage accounts that Wedgewood had maintained for Civitas Bank and hired the 30 or so brokers who were dual employees of Wedgewood and the bank.

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