Chase Manhattan Corp. has accelerated a program designed to boost insurance sales and lead to more cross-selling opportunities for other investment products.

The bank launched "Project Partners" in July with the goal of making its investment products more accessible to all of its clientele.

A joint initiative of six Chase divisions, including Chase Investment Services, the branch management group, and Chase Insurance Agency, the program also includes 20 of the bank's senior managers.

Last month, the bank revisited the program, with an eye toward further increasing its insurance and other investment product sales. It now plans to have a licensed insurance seller in each of its 506 branches by yearend.

So far, 300 of Chase's "platform," or nonteller branch workers, have gotten licenses to sell insurance.

"We are starting with insurance because we see it as a stepladder approach, in the sense that life insurance is the first step in the education process," said John J. Stack, executive vice president of Chase's Direct Financial Services Group.

Subsequent steps in the education process, he said, include the sale of annuities and, finally, the sale of Chase's proprietary Vista mutual funds.

"We want to have a deeper relationship with our customers, and in order to do that, we need to understand our customers," he added. "Indiscriminate cross-selling doesn't work. What we would like to do is have our customers have more products with us."

Chase began selling insurance in 1993. Since then, annual sales have grown from $10 million to $120 million for 1997.

"Chase is one of the largest bank providers of insurance," said Les Dinkin, a director at Oliver Wyman & Co. in New York. It is now "trying to leverage its footprint to sell more insurance and investment services to current customers, which represents a large market opportunity."

Extrapolating from figures that say 40% of U.S. adults have brokerage accounts, Mr. Stack said the bank could then reach 40% of its 2.4 million customers. The bank currently has a brokerage relationship with 5% of its customer base.

Underserved markets the bank wants to reach include New York City's boroughs of the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island.

"We are going to deliver the capabilities of a world-class bank locally, and people want that," said Tom Cahallan, senior vice president of Chase's branch management group. "If you think about some of the neighborhoods in the outer boroughs from an insurance perspective, I don't think there are a lot of insurance representatives working those neighborhoods."

Valerie Jordan, president of Jordan & Jordan Associates, a bank insurance consultancy in Belchertown, Mass., said Chase is leveraging its retail branch environment to sell insurance.

"It fits into why banks are in insurance to begin with, which is the underserved, or not served, customer," Ms. Jordan said.

"Community banks are really holding onto their market share because they are providing warm and fuzzy relations," she added. "Chase is recognizing you a need a touchy-feely kind of atmosphere. It's a natural kind of thing."

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