The formation of a retail insurance network by Acordia Inc. the Chicago insurance agency that Wells Fargo & Co. is buying and the London agency Heath Lambert Group reflects a growing cross-Atlantic trend.
Such U.S.-Europe pairings in financial services have been surging in recent weeks. The British insurer Prudential PLC has agreed to buy the U.S. life insurer American General Corp.; Bank of America Corp. has entered a distribution deal with Farmers Insurance, a subsidiary of Zurich Life; and the possibility has been rumored of a similar link between the German insurer Allianz and Merrill Lynch & Co.
Though the Acordia-Heath Lambert deal, which was announced Thursday, is designed more to improve each companys ability to serve its multinational clients, it would also give Wells a higher worldwide profile.
Timothy J. King, president of Wells Fargo Insurance, said his company was aware that Acordia was negotiating this deal with Heath Lambert. The alliance will be beneficial, he said.
Wells Fargo Insurance has several customers with international ties, Mr. King said. This gives us an opportunity to actually increase our international risk management using Heath Lambert and its network through the various foreign countries.
While it is too soon in the process to look at the possible international cross-selling opportunities in detail, the alliance might help Wells Fargo sell insurance to its international clients, he said.
Valerie Jordan, the president of Jordan & Jordan Associates, a Belchertown, Mass. consulting firm, said that if Wells wants to expand its lending operations outside the United States, insurance relationships could be a good way to start a customer base abroad.
The new network, called HLA Global, is based in Guernsey, one of the United Kingdoms Channel Islands. It is meant to increase local servicing capability for Heath Lamberts clients in the United States, as well as give Acordia access to Health Lamberts relationships and offices in 43 countries in Europe, Latin America, South America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Canada.
All of Acordias 110 offices are in the United States, but Frank Witthun, president of the company, said it has always worked with agents including Heath Lambert in other countries to help service clients operations abroad.
Heath Lamberts multinational Lambert Network, which provided local service to clients with insurance needs in countries other than the United Kingdom, has become part of HLA Global.
The new network has offices in 55 countries, and the companies expect the its combined annual revenues to be over $1 billion.
Jim Campbell, senior vice president of Reagan Consulting Inc. in Atlanta, said the deal is unique among bank-owned agencies, mainly because of the size of Acordia. The Acordias of the world are pretty rare, he said. Most of the agencies are not serving multinational clients.
Also, most banking companies are locally based and have historically shopped for agencies within the geographic area served by their branches, Mr. Campbell said. Wells deal for Acordia, announced March 8 and expected to close in the second quarter, is unusual not only because of the sheer size of the agency, but because it has clients that require this kind of high-end multinational services, he said.
However, Mr. Campbell said that the international trend probably will not spread far into the bank-owned agency sector. When you are looking at the carriers and the underwriters, there has been that international flair, but not so on the broker side, he said. The distribution piece of it is just a little different.