Property and casualty insurance could become a growth market for banks, according to a Synergistics Research Corp. study.

The Atlanta research firm surveyed 1,000 people with household incomes of $15,000 or more and found that nearly half had either bought property and casualty insurance or would consider buying it. In a controversial survey finding, Synergistics said 19% had bought property and casualty insurance from a bank and another 30% might eventually do so. Insurance consultants disputed the 19% figure, calling it grossly out of line with banks' minuscule market share. But the survey underscored the idea that banks have no place to go but up in terms of educating people about their offerings. The study found that 41% of the respondents who had not bought property and casualty policies through banks had no idea that banks offered insurance.

"The numbers show that there is clearly an opportunity for banks to sell property and casualty insurance," said Genie Driskill, chief operating officer and senior vice president of research at Synergistics. The survey defined property and casualty insurance as homeowner's or personal auto insurance.

"Banks are going to have to aggressively promote the products and show that they are in the business," Ms. Driskill said. "It's a new line of business for banks, and it's going to take some time, but banks have to get the message out."

Consultants said this might be true but that the survey lacked credibility because of its finding that nearly one in five already had bought insurance from a bank.

"The studies I've seen in the past have the number of people buying P&C insurance at closer to 1%," said Kenneth Kehrer, president of Kenneth Kehrer Associates of Princeton, N.J. "The 19% would mean that banks have a huge part of the property and casualty market, and that's not the case. The typical bank has only sold investments like mutual funds or annuities. The 19% figure is off the wall."

Another consultant, Carmen Effron, president of C.F. Effron Co., said respondents might have misunderstood the question. "That's the only explanation I can come up with," Ms. Effron said. "There is no bank I know of with this type of penetration. The problem is, this will get out in public, and bank executives are going to want to know why they aren't getting a 19% penetration rate."

But Ms. Driskill defended the survey, saying, "There are some banks that have sold these insurance lines for a number of years and are succeeding."

Banks are trying to get the message out, Mr. Kehrer said.

"Given all the clutter, it's not surprising people aren't aware of it," he said. "Banks are screaming, 'Look, we have insurance,' but it takes time for people to get used to the idea."

He likened buying insurance at a bank to buying milk at a gas station.

"Years ago it was inconceivable," Mr. Kehrer said. "Now it's logical."

Mr. Kehrer added that banks are putting insurance brochures in statements and advertising the products on the back of ATM receipts.

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