Commercial banks are making big strides in selling insurance and related products, according to a study by a trade group.

Bank sales of insurance hit $27.8 billion last year, nearly twice some estimates for the year before, according to a new report commissioned by the Association of Banks-in-Insurance.

The study, slated to be released today, found that about 40% of all banks now offer insurance products beyond annuities and credit insurance.

"The level of activity and sales is increasing with additional contributions from new products," said Kenneth Reynolds, executive director of the trade group.

While annuities still make up 68% of sales, that share will diminish over time as other products begin to sell, Mr. Reynolds and others suggested.

He said growth will continue to quicken as bank insurance programs mature and new sales are heaped upon policy renewals.

The study is one of the first to try sizing up overall bank insurance activities. In addition to sales estimates, the study established some performance benchmarks and took a detailed look at the factors that eight top-performing bank programs cite as leading to success.

Surveys were sent to 1,000 banks of all sizes by Reagan & Associates, an Atlanta management consulting firm. More than 300 banks responded, creating a statistically significant sample, Mr. Reynolds said.

The survey found 70% of banks offer insurance-related products of some kind. The share drops to 40% when credit insurance and annuities are excluded.

Other findings held some surprise for the Washington-based trade group. For example, it found that commercial lines of insurance made up as much as 10% of total sales of insurance-related products.

"I didn't think there was that much involvement," Mr. Reynolds said. Now, however, he believes commercial insurance could be a fast-growing segment for banks over the next five years.

Glen Milesko, president of Banc One Insurance Services Corp. and of the trade group, cautioned against taking the survey results too strictly or comparing them too closely with other findings. Reporting techniques can vary widely and results are not audited, he said.

Still, the study does help define the broad dimensions of banks' involvement in insurance.

"There isn't a lot of data in this business, and you have to have a point to start from," said James M. Campbell, a senior vice president Reagan & Associates, an Atlanta consulting firm which produced the study for the trade group.

One findings of the study was that the eight banks judged to have outstanding insurance programs considered support by senior management a key to success.

In interviews with the survey firm, executives of these banks explained that their managements had granted room for experimentation.

"Their path to success in this business was not free of error," Mr. Campbell said. "These banks are saying, 'This is a long-term issue for us. We're going to cultivate this and give it an opportunity to grow.'"

One major problem, the study found, is that integrating insurance with other bank departments is hard. Retail banking operations were the most cooperative, investment product departments the least, Mr. Campbell said.

Friction often develops over whether annuities are investment products or insurance, he said.

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