The drive to create Internet super-sites that mirror their financial superstore branch strategy has a handful of banks adding free life insurance quotes and insurance policy sales to rapidly expanding Web applications. "I think there are two big things in it for a bank," says Michael Fitzgerald, svp of Salem Five Cents Savings Bank, based in Salem, MA. "Number one, it's another reason to bookmark our site; another reason to come to us for really full-service financial products. The second thing is (that) we make money on every policy we sell."

Salem Five offers term life quotes and policies from as many as a dozen insurers through an arrangement with Coverdell & Company in Atlanta, the licensed agent for the transactions.

Comerica Inc., of Detroit, offers a similar quoting engine with Incline Village, NV-based QuickQuote, but Comerica is the licensed agent and splits the commission with QuickQuote for policies sold to Michigan customers. This split-commission arrangement will eventually be extended to include Texas and California where Comerica is also licensed. The bank receives a flat fee for policies sold in the other 47 states. In its first three weeks, the quote engine recorded 233 visitors and 618 requested quotes. Seven potential customers requested applications, says Jeff Pearce, director of alternative distribution for the Comerica Insurance Group.

And while the bank will be happy to receive the referral fees for customers who purchase policies outside of Michigan, California and Texas, the real strategy is to build relationships with existing customers. "(The Web site) may catch the eye of maybe an investor in another state, but I'm really looking to build relationships with Comerica customers which I think are a likely group to look at our home page," Pearce says.

The data from insurance company Web sites supports this theory. According to "U.S. Consumer Internet Fee-Based Services Markets," a 1997 Frost & Sullivan report, insurance companies that sell policies on their Web sites say that less than one percent of all sales are made there.

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