To sell insurance, one community bank in Missouri switched to a trust company charter.
Under Missouri law, trust companies may sell insurance or take on other banks as institutional investors, said Earl L. Manning, the state's commissioner of finance.
Missouri's trust company charter hasn't changed in years, but it's now more attractive as bankers search for a way to sell insurance, Mr. Manning said. "We've had this law on the books for many, many years, but banks didn't take advantage of it," he said.
Empire Bank in Springfield swapped its state charter for a trust company charter in June so the bank could start its own insurance agency, said Michael J. Williamson, president of the $450 million-asset bank.
Mr. Williamson, who is also chairman of the Missouri Bankers Association, said Empire had been searching for the best way to get into the insurance business, and the charter change seemed cheapest and fastest.
"In the past it was more difficult to get an ATM that it was to change the charter," he said.
The Department of Finance approved Empire's application in five days, and the bank began selling its insurance products two months later.
Now Empire is in the process of buying a small, local insurance agency for its customer base and to boost the bank's product line.
Four other banks in the state have converted to trust companies, but so far none is using the insurance powers.
Midland Bank in Lee's Summit converted last month so it would be able to retain its bank investors. Midland, a $356 million-asset bank, is owned by several other local banks-a practice that Missouri law will disallow next year.
As a trust company, other banks may invest up to 5% of their equity capital in Midland stock, said Tod W. Stafford, Midland's chief financial officer. Mr. Stafford said Midland does not plan to sell insurance products with its trust company charter.
In addition to Empire and Midland Banks, Enterprise Bank of Clayton, Bank 21 of Carrollton, and Phelps County Bank of Rolla also have switched to trust company charters this year.
Enterprise Bank, a $230 million-asset bank, does not have any specific plans to sell insurance, but chief financial officer James Wagner said the bank wanted to keep its options open.
Like Mr. Williams, Mr. Wagner said the application process was quick and easy-"a paperwork shuffle."
C. Robert Knott, chief executive officer of Bank 21 and a former state bank examiner, said switching charters has not affected the institution's supervision.
"It's still the same Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. inspection and still the same state inspection," he said.
Matthew Street, an American Bankers Association lawyer, said Missouri is the only state where banks have gained the right to sell insurance by changing charters.