With its second insurance agency acquisition in three months, Hibernia Corp. is rapidly building an insurance presence across Louisiana. And it's eyeing the Texas market, too.

This month the $11 billion-asset New Orleans banking company purchased the Judice-Henry-May-Marye Agency Inc., Baton Rouge, La. And in March it bought FPS Insurance Services Inc., Jefferson, La.

Thanks to the two deals, Hibernia will have bank insurance agents in the southern part of the state. More acquisitions will cover the northern part, said Kenneth A. Rains, executive vice president for trust and personal asset management and manager of Hibernia Insurance Agency Inc.

"If we don't grow earnings per share, we'll go by the wayside," Mr. Rains said. "We need to have a sense of urgency about everything we do."

Hibernia formed its insurance unit in the second quarter of last year. Mr. Rains said he expects the banking company to garner $3 million in insurance commissions by the end of this year. His goal is to see Hibernia's business generate $20 million in commissions within five years.

In Judice, Hibernia got an agency with 3,500 business and individual clients that generated $8.5 million in premiums in 1997. FPS generated $3 million in premiums from a customer base of 2,000.

The agencies are now doing business under the Hibernia Insurance Agency name and together have 10 agents. As many as 10 more agents and some support staff will be added this year-not including any acquired sales forces, Mr. Rains said. The banking company already had 13 life insurance specialists.

Hibernia Insurance offers property and casualty, workers' compensation, general liability, and auto insurance, Mr. Rains said.

The banking company is awaiting regulatory approval to bring insurance to Texas, where it has $800 million in banking assets.

Hibernia looked for strong local reputations in the acquisitions. Judice, for instance, had a 28-year record serving the community. That's important to Hibernia, which is positioning itself as a trusted hometown player, as out-of-state banks, including Banc One Corp., Columbus, Ohio, and First America Corp., Nashville, enter Louisiana via acquisitions.

Dudley May, Judice's former president and now a regional insurance manager for Hibernia, said he expects access to the banking company's customer base to result in new sales-especially of property and auto insurance. Indeed, he already has some cross-selling stories to report.

After Sunday church services a fellow parishioner approached Mr. May to tell him how well Hibernia handled the financing of a business acquisition. Now, he told Mr. May, he'd buy insurance from the banking company as well.

"We expect a lot of growth from tapping into bank customers," he said.

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