The Florida Bankers Association will launch a new division Oct. 1 to help its members navigate the unfamiliar terrain of insurance sales.

The new division, the first set up by a bank trade group, will educate members about insurance sales and track legislation and regulation that affect the industry.

Services will be available to member banks involved in or looking to get into the insurance business, as well as any agent affiliated with member banks. About 70 of the association's 400 members own an insurance agency or are affiliated with an agent.

"It should basically take an active role in shaping insurance legislation critical to Florida bankers, and provide continuing education that is different" from what is typically available to bankers, said Thomas Dargan, president of Peninsula Bank of Central Florida in Daytona Beach and co-chairman of the task force that formed the division.

Since no other bank trade group has such a division, the Florida group looked at the structures of state and national insurance trade associations before settling on a model similar to its trust division.

Keevin Williams has been named vice president of the insurance division and will oversee its day-to-day operations. He was previously a government-affairs representative for the trade group.

The division will have a seven-member executive committee, a president-elect, and a president, all of whom will be bank executives and will be named Oct. 1. Its two standing committees, education and legislation, will hold training and discussion sessions.

"Insurance is new to the banking industry in Florida, and having input from insurance agents will make it better for us day in and day out," Mr. Williams said.

The division also aims to thaw the sometimes frosty relations between banks and insurers. This was evident in the committee that created the division, which was headed by Mr. Dargan and Sam Rogers Sr. of Rogers, Atkins, Gunter & Associates Insurance of Tallahassee.

Alejandro Sanchez, chief executive officer of the association, said the banking industry "is getting closer to insurance, and from an advocacy perspective, we need agents working with us."

Mr. Dargan said the division would be especially helpful to his $38 million-asset bank, which is looking to enter the insurance business. He said he and others in the association would benefit from the expertise of member banks that currently sell insurance.

The trade group decided to create an insurance arm last fall after the passage of the Graham-Leach-Bliley Act, which gave all nationally chartered banks the ability to sell insurance. A few months earlier the Florida Legislature passed a bill that gave all state-chartered banks the ability to sell insurance.

Official discussions about the division's makeup began in December, and the trade group's board of directors passed its bylaws last week.

Mr. Dargan said the association "realized it was time to start working toward that now, rather than waiting until everyone is in the insurance business."

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