During its board meeting in January, the Independent Insurance Agents of America will endorse common ownership of banks and insurance firms, a lobbyist for the group said Wednesday.

The agents group has long opposed affiliation between banks and insurance firms, and last year vigorously pushed Congress to limit banks' growth in the insurance business.

But Ron Smith, the group's incoming president, told reporters after a board meeting Oct. 17 in Toronto that there was a strong consensus to change strategy.

Phil Anderson, the group's director of federal affairs, said it is shifting its position because courts and regulators already have expanded national bank insurance powers. "We think these types of affiliations are unstoppable," he said.

Mr. Anderson said insurance agents want to offer products such as certificates of deposit and home equity loans to compete with banks. "There are great opportunities to branch into the banking area," he said.

The American Council of Life Insurance, which represents insurance companies, endorsed industry affiliation in September.

Mr. Anderson said agents group will insist that banking and insurance operations be conducted from separate subsidiaries of a holding company. Also, state insurance regulators must have authority to supervise bank insurance activities, he said.

Edward L. Yingling, chief lobbyist of the American Bankers Association, said he was "encouraged" that the major insurance groups support industry affiliation.

However, he said, the bank and insurance trade groups are still far apart on the proposed state licensing and holding-company requirements.

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