Astoria Financial Corp., a New York thrift company, has established an insurance agency and begun marketing life, health, property, and casualty insurance through its 87 branches.

The $22.9 billion-asset company in Lake Success, which started its AF Insurance Agency about two months ago, is touting the unit's offerings in its branches throughout Long Island and plans a targeted direct mailing in a few weeks.

"We look at this as the initial phase of our getting into the insurance business," said Brian Edwards, first vice president of marketing at Astoria Financial.

The company is hiring eight life insurance specialists for AF Insurance, has licensed 200 personal bankers to sell insurance products in the branches, and is selling universal life and annuity products through about 40 financial consultants.

The eight specialists are to work Astoria Financial's established territory, which includes Nassau, Suffolk, and Queens counties on Long Island.

"No one has mastered selling insurance through banks, but we're giving it a shot," Mr. Edwards said.

Next month Astoria plans to begin selling auto insurance.

Insurance is not completely new to the thrift company, which used to sell Savings Bank Life Insurance through a savings bank unit, or to its competitors.

"Certainly in the New York metropolitan area, there are banks already doing this, so they are moderately late," said Kenneth Kehrer, president of Kenneth Kehrer & Associates, a Princeton, N.J., consulting firm specializing in bank distribution of investments and insurance.

Once it completes a redesign of its Web site - another thing it should have done sooner, one expert said - Astoria Financial also plans to sell over the Internet.

James Overholt, senior consultant and manager of financial services programs at Milliman & Robertson Inc. in Chicago, said, "It's surprising to me that any bank or thrift does not have a fairly robust Web site up by now."

On the property and casualty side, Astoria Financial mortgage loan officers in the next few months will begin offering applicants free price quotes.

"We're offering quotes from up to 26 different insurance companies because we believe it's important to stay in touch with as many players as possible," Mr. Edwards said.

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