Banks-eager to become full-blown providers of financial products and services-can leapfrog into the insurance industry with the help of kiosks that market auto insurance directly to consumers.

The assistance will come from Affinity Technology Group, which stormed the insurance front last month when it acquired two closely held Dallas companies and their patented auto-insurance kiosk technology.

Affinity's new technology is big news for banks that are already selling insurance, as well as those institutions interested in doing so. The upshot: The lower cost distribution channel could generate added insurance sales by allowing consumers to compare various product offerings. "This will be an excellent media relevant for banks, "says Affinity CFO Joseph Boyle.

The kiosks will have consumer-driven touch screens, much like Affinity's automated loan machines (ALMs) and will automate the process of applying for and receiving auto insurance binders. The kiosks can analyze as many as eight insurance products and offer consumers the four cheapest alternatives. The product will probably be available to banks in the fourth quarter, Boyle says.

Affinity is counting on its core market to utilize the auto insurance kiosks. "Insurance companies and some small banks are probably our most immediate market, but the market will probably evolve over time," Boyle says.

Analysts say the insurance kiosks will fit nicely with banks desire to distribute more non-traditional financial product-and arguably couldn't come at a better time. "Most banks expect that, at some point in the very near future, they'll (want) to sell insurance products," says John B. Moore, an analyst with Morgan Keegan & Co., based in Memphis. "My vision is that (the insurance kiosks are) an additional product line that Affinity can offer to the financial community."

How the insurance policies would be paid for at kiosks hasn't been determined, but sources say that banks could eventually accept anything from credit cards to electronic fund transfers for payment at the kiosks. The insurance kiosks could also be integrated with Affinity's decision support and ALM functions. Boyle says the possibilities are endless. "You can put anything through a touch screen. The true power of the product is access to the databases that exist,' he says.

This distribution channel, and a little underwriting help from regulators, could be exactly what banks need.

-sausner tfn.com

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