Two banking companies that have been among the most active in acquiring insurance agencies are considering working together to ask insurance companies for tailored products.
The heads of the insurance agencies of Winston-Salem, N.C.-based BB&T Corp. and Peoples Heritage Financial Group plan to meet in Peoples' hometown of Portland, Maine, this month to discuss the possibilities.
Though he would not discuss specifics of the upcoming talks, John R. Curran, the president of Morse, Payson & Noyes, Peoples Heritage's insurance agency subsidiary, said the idea is for two agencies with similar strategies to team up to gain clout with insurers.
Insurers typically cater to "the national brokers that have significant market share," Mr. Curran said. But if banks prove they can sell insurance to their large customer bases-and also join forces with other successful banks-insurers will take notice, Mr. Curran said.
"This makes sense. You'll probably see more of it," said James Overholt, a consultant with Chicago-based Milliman & Robertson.
Banding together into so-called producer groups is a popular strategy among independent insurance agencies looking to get the features and prices they want from underwriters. However, it's a new game plan for banks selling insurance products.
"I'm surprised more banks haven't done it," said Gary Warden, a vice president with Commercial Union Life Insurance Co., a large Boston-based insurance underwriter with more than 30 bank relationships.
Mr. Warden said insurers do take notice when banks with expansive customer bases acquire proven agencies, as these two banking companies have.
"I think anytime you put buying units together it's a good idea," Mr. Warden said. "It's good for the customer and it's good for the banks."
Successful agencies such as Morse, Payson & Noyes and BB&T Insurance Services know their markets well and have the customer awareness to develop products that will better meet customer needs, Mr. Warden said.
But Mr. Overholt warned that cooperation among agencies "isn't as easy as it appears." Though getting underwriters to agree to volume pricing might be easy, he said, agreeing on specific product features can be a challenge. And any market overlap can cause problems as an agency looks to offer unique products to its customers.
There is no market overlap between BB&T and Peoples Heritage.
Peoples Heritage operates in northern New England. Its insurance agency acquisition strategy has been similar to BB&T's, following up bank acquisitions with agency acquisitions. Peoples is working on agency acquisitions in New Hampshire and Massachusetts and is looking in Vermont and upstate New York, Mr. Curran said. Last week it announced that it is buying Banknorth Group of Burlington, Vt.
BB&T has been on an acquisition tear of its own, announcing six insurance agency deals since December. It operates 42 agencies in North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia. BB&T said it is the 16th- largest independent agency in the country.
Mr. Curran said he expects these types of partnerships to gain popularity. "There will be bank-owned agencies that will partner to bring better products to the marketplace," he said.