Florida lawmakers are considering a bill that would let more banks sell insurance.
The state's banks have been permitted to sell insurance through branches in small towns since 1996. The proposed legislation, which has cleared a state Senate committee and is now in Florida's House of Representatives, would let banks sell home, auto, and other insurance products from branches in towns with more than 5,000 residents.
Industry experts predicted that the bill would pass, thanks in part to an unlikely ally-the Florida Association of Insurance Agents.
"The political leadership is very pleased to see the two industries agreeing on the bill," said Alex Sanchez, chief executive officer of the Florida Bankers Association in Tallahassee. "It makes it much easier to get something like this passed."
Though some banks have gotten around the 5,000-resident restriction by establishing statewide operations in a branch in a qualifying town, most have found it too expensive and have stayed away from insurance sales.
If the bill were passed, an institution that only has offices in Miami would be able to sell insurance just as easily as one in Mayo, a town of 917 in northern Florida.
The bill was introduced by Sen. Tom Rossin, the former president of Flagler National Bank in West Palm Beach.
Mr. Sanchez said he believes the insurance agents support the legislation because it would open bank partnerships to them. "Agents want to associate with banks, and this would give them the opportunity," he said. "We have so much in common; in five years the two industries are going to wonder why we ever disagreed."
It cannot hurt that the two industry groups know each other well. The insurance association is headed by Jeff Grady, former executive director of the Community Bankers of Florida. That group merged with the Florida Bankers Association last year.
Mr. Grady could not be reached for comment. But a spokesman for his group said insurance agents support the bill in part because of the marketing restrictions it adds to bank insurance sales.
The bill would require banks to sell the products through a separate part of the branch, for example, and to tell customers that they do not have to buy insurance to get a loan.
If it passes, the bill would make Florida the 34th state to allow statewide insurance sales by banks.