The two major associations representing banks that sell insurance are courting again.

The Financial Institutions Insurance Association and the Association of Banks-in-Insurance have formed a committee to consider a merger.

"At this time, with the industry coming together, we think we need to come together," said Richard D. Starr, chairman of the FIIA and chief executive officer of Financial Institutions Group, Issaquah, Wash. "The industry needs a consolidated voice."

Mr. Starr made his comments to the 400 bankers and insurance providers at the FIIA's fall conference here. As of now, he said, the organizations are not scheduled to meet to discuss the matter.

It is not the first time they have considered joining forces. About two years ago discussions failed, in part because the groups represent different classes of banks.

The Delaware-chartered ABI was formed by larger banks that had grandfathered insurance powers. The FIIA not only included big banks, but banks and service providers of all sizes.

Today, most banks are members of both, said Alice Berreyesa, FIIA executive director.

Last October, the American Bankers Association formed a third bank insurance trade group, the ABA Insurance Association. Managing director Larry LaRocco said it has just 15 members, representing the largest banks selling insurance.

But this group currently focuses on national legal and regulatory issues affecting bank insurance programs rather than the programs' retail business concerns, LaRocco said.

Meanwhile, Ms. Berreyesa said she thought prospects for a merger of the FIIA and the ABI were good, and David L. Holton, a member of the exploratory committee from the ABI, agreed.

"True financial reform is on the way and we want to move the industry forward," said Mr. Holton, president of Wachovia Insurance Services, Winston-Salem, N.C. "Does it make sense to have two organizations?"

Combining forces would be cost-effective and reduce duplication of effort, he said.

At the same time, the group would provide a more significant lobbying platform for financial services reform. "It's a bigger voice," Mr. Holton said.

"There is a great awakening around the whole industry that there is great opportunity," Mr. Holton said of bank insurance sales. "The fundamental issue we are trying to look at is how we can move the industry forward."

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