BB&T Corp., which had been looking for benefits firms to buy to round out its insurance offerings, found one.

Its BB&T Insurance Services Inc. of Raleigh, N.C., said Tuesday that would buy Clark Consulting Group, an employee benefits specialist in Roanoke, Va.

The price was not disclosed. Clark is to be merged into BB&T-Chaney Thomas, a property and casualty agency in Roanoke. The deal is scheduled to close by the end of the quarter.

"Clark Consulting is a pure employee benefits agency," said Wade Reece, president of BB&T Insurance. "Our Roanoke agency did some employee benefits sales, but Clark will more than double the amount of employee benefits business we have in that city."

BB&T already has a benefits presence at some of its agencies. In August it bought Poindexter & Associates Inc., an employee benefits specialist in Martinsville, Va., and rolled it into BB&T's agency in that area.

Each of BB&T's agencies functions autonomously. Mr. Reece said the fact that property and casualty insurance still makes up 70% of its business is not a problem for him. However, he said he wants to be able to offer more products from all lines of insurance, including employee benefits.

BB&T is continuing to buy agencies at a fast clip. "We've averaged about five agency acquisitions a year for the last 10 years," Mr. Reece said.

It has 62 agencies in seven states and is the 13th-largest insurance broker (and the second-largest bank-owned broker) in the United States, according to Business Insurance magazine's yearly listing of the 100 largest U.S. brokers.

Jim Campbell, senior vice president of Reagan Consulting Inc., an Atlanta firm that brokers bank-agency deals, said building through acquisitions is not the only way to build a bank-owned insurance agency. "Most banks will use an acquisition as a starting point" by buying a few larger agencies or some smaller ones and then growing the business from within, he said.

BB&T has been able to put together a successful network of smaller agencies, he said. "BB&T already has the distribution system in place, so now they go out and buy agencies with local flavor, local feel, and a local presence. Insurance agencies generally are locally run, so BB&T has done well with their strategy."

Mr. Reece said allowing the agencies to be run locally is the key to BB&T's growth.

"The acquisition is the starting point, but our decentralized philosophy, where we give each agency autonomy, is what makes this work," he said. "Most of these agencies were entrepreneurial, and they know what works in their town, so we give them the ability to run locally within our larger operating system."

BB&T Corp., based in Winston-Salem, N.C., has $55.2 billion of assets. Its Branch Banking and Trust Co owns BB&T Insurance.


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