Banks can search high and low for help in capturing more of their clients' business. Sometimes it means pairing up with other banks or brokerage firms.

But Comerica Investment Bank in Detroit says it recently found that the only partner it needed to increase sales of its insurance products was right under its nose.

The Comerica Inc. unit increased its wallet share by teaming up investment managers from its Comerica Securities with insurance agents from its Comerica Insurance Group, an executive said.

"It is important in banking to find crossover points and to leverage them," said George Eshelman, an executive vice president with Comerica and director of its investment bank. "Getting our securities brokers together with our insurance agents to work on large insurance cases is just so logical."

In March, Comerica initiated a pilot program that paired portfolio managers with insurance salesmen to sell different types of insurance products and split the fee.

The partnership has been a win-win situation, Mr. Eshelman said.

Since the project's inception Comerica Investment Bank, which has $11 billion in assets under management, has increased sales of its insurance products 11%, Mr. Eshelman said.

He predicts that sales this year will be up 45% from 1999. Last year's rise was 34%.

But Mr. Eshelman said he expects the program to have a more lasting effect.

"We have found through years of research that people that buy investment products and people that buy insurance products are people that want to form a lasting relationship with us, and that leads to higher levels of deposits," he said.

Mr. Eshelman said brokers and portfolio managers were naturally skeptical at first about the joint business development program.

Securities brokers have been selling annuities -- including premium life insurance, income protection plans, and large estate plans -- for a long time. But the program paired insurance salespeople and portfolio managers because selling annuities is very different from selling investment products, Mr. Eshelman said.

Securities can be sold in just days or weeks, he said. "You settle on a plan or a fund and it is yours.

"But the sale of insurance products can take months or years."

Mr. Eshelman said the teamwork creates a bigger pie for everyone.

Now that the skepticism has died down, he said, the company's agents and brokers are working toward a common goal.

"Brokers are happy to work with agents and let them do all the heavy lifting in an insurance transaction," he said. "The broker can get back to what he knows, and the agent isn't left cold-calling people in the white pages."

So far the program has been used primarily on large estate-planning cases, but Mr. Eshelman said he hopes it will naturally expand so that brokers and agents are sending referrals back and forth for a variety of products.

"This isn't brain surgery here," he said. "Large companies need to have a good synergy in order to continue to grow. It just gets too confusing to have product lines going at each other head to head when they should be running side by side."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.