With six insurance agency acquisitions under its belt - four in the past 12 months - Webster Financial Corp. is well on its way to becoming a full-service financial services company, analysts say.
In 1998 the $12 billion-asset Waterbury, Conn., company bought its first insurance agency, which specialized in commercial property/casualty coverage. Since then it has bought five more in its home state, each specializing in a business line Webster had decided it needed to enter or enhance. Last Monday the company announced that it had bought Wolff-Zackin & Associates Inc., a multiline insurance agency, and Benefit Plans Design & Administration Inc., which supplies businesses with pension, individual retirement account, and 401(k) investment plans. Each is based in Vernon, a Hartford suburb. Both deals closed April 5.
John Queirolo, president of Webster Insurance Associates, said the parent company has developed its insurance business by buying agencies with presences in key areas of the state, as well as in key business sectors.
The insurance unit now has offices in Westport, Waterford, Wallingford, and Vernon, and has expanded its business menu from commercial property/casualty products to include group life and health, and now, with the latest two purchases, wealth management and estate planning.
Mr. Queirolo said the expansion into estate planning was necessary. "We had some ability to provide high-end life insurance and estate planning to high-net-worth clients, but it wasn't established," he said. "Wealth management is generally not an area that independent brokerages that do property/casualty have had the expertise to handle internally. That's why we think" Wolff-Zackin is "a great find."
William McCrystal, an equity analyst at McConnell, Budd & Downes, a Morristown, N.J., investment banking firm, said Webster Financial is ahead of other thrift companies of similar size in insurance. "Most banks in the $10 billion to $15 billion size range have not gotten as much into insurance as Webster," he said. "It's been profitable for them, and their customers asked for it, so it's made sense to them."
Though Webster Financial has moved quickly to build its agency business, Mr. McCrystal said its strategy has been effective so far.
"Webster's been aggressive but not extreme," he said. "It has bought a nice array of insurance and financial planning businesses, and it has done a good job integrating all of them."
Laurie Hunsicker, an equity analyst at Friedman Billings Ramsey & Co. in Arlington, Va., said Webster is achieving its goal of becoming a full-service community banking-type company.
"The goal at community banks is to offer as many services as possible, and insurance is a business that the premier community banks want to offer," Ms. Hunsicker said. "They're doing that, and they're offering a wide enough range of products to take advantage of the cross-sell."
Mr. Queirolo said that has been the goal. "We've wanted to build enough scale to be able to offer services to all of our banking customers," he said. "If you don't have size, it's difficult to offer depth of services to a broad range of customers."
Ms. Hunsicker said she expects the agency acquisitions to help the parent company boost its share of revenue derived from noninterest income to 30%. "To be over 30% is great," she said. "The traditional thrift is at 15% to 18%, and community banks are a bit higher."
However, insurance remains a small part of the average banking company's noninterest income, Ms. Hunsicker said. Insurance revenues produce 11.2% of Webster's noninterest income, and a much larger share comes from fees and service charges, she said. "That's standard," she said.
Mr. Quierolo said Webster Financial remains "opportunistic" about agency purchases and would like to find another agency in western Connecticut, preferably in the Danbury-Waterbury area. The agency would have to be similar to the ones it has already bought, he said. The next candidate might not emerge right away. Mr. Queirolo said he needs to focus on integrating the agencies his company has just bought.
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