Bankers looking to enter the insurance business can now turn to the American Bankers Association for help.

The Washington-based trade group recently launched the Bankers Insurance Center to help ABA members set up income-producing insurance programs and select insurance coverage for their own institutions.

Since quietly alerting members about the project in August, more than 60 banks have signed up and contracts are pending with 120 more, said Ron Summerville, managing director of the Bank Insurance Center.

This summer, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the right of national banks to market insurance nationwide from towns with less than 5,000 population.

While some banks are already selling annuities, which are insurance contracts that invest in underlying pools of securities, the ruling has opened the doors for banks to sell other insurance products, such as life insurance.

In 1992, banks sold $12.2 billion of annuities, according to Kenneth Kehrer & Associates, a firm in Princeton, N.J., that tracks the annuity industry.

"Now is the time for every banker to take a look at the opportunities for saving and making money in insurance," said Donald G. Ogilvie, the association's executive vice president.

Helpful to Smaller Banks

"The ABA has done the homework, sorted out the regulations, negotiated the contract, and approved the initial product lines," Mr. Ogilvie explained.

The ABA's legwork and stature helps level the playing field for its members, 94% of whom are community banks with less than $500 million of assets.

Through the center, banks, regardless of size, will be able to bargain and build alliances with insurance industry giants.

"The center is focusing primarily on community banks," said Mr. Summerville, but some larger banks have expressed interest, too, as more sign on.

"It's been an outstanding response and a clear indication that there was an interest and a need" for such a program, he said.

A Range of Services

Insurance companies involved in the deal said they did not want to be named, for fear of causing problems with existing, clients.

On Jan. 1, the insurance center will launch a program to assist banks in buying their own property and casualty insurance, Mr. Summerville said.

Bank insurance agencies can also get help tailoring products to meet customers' needs. Other services offered include direct customer billing, marketing materials and a toll-free quote service.

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