The head of Hibernia National Bank's insurance business has left less than a year after he was hired to start the operation.

James H. Meredith, who joined the bank in January 1997 as vice president of insurance, departed shortly before Thanksgiving, said Kenneth A. Rains, executive vice president for trust and asset management, who was Mr. Meredith's boss.

Mr. Rains declined to explain why Mr. Meredith left or whether he did so voluntarily, saying only that "he's no longer with the bank."

There will be "no material impact" on Hibernia's insurance business as a result of Mr. Meredith's leaving, Mr. Rains said.

Mr. Meredith could not be reached for comment.

Hibernia's insurance business became active late in the second quarter of 1997, and Mr. Rains estimated revenues at about $100,000. It sells life and long-term-care insurance through eight carriers, including Phoenix Home Life, Canada Life, John Hancock, and Jefferson Pilot.

Mr. Rains said that Mr. Meredith's post will not be filled and that he himself would continue to oversee the insurance business while delegating more responsibility to regional sales executives.

He plans to increase the bank's seven-agent sales staff by about a dozen in the next three to six months, Mr. Rains said, and to lead Hibernia into the property and casualty insurance arena by acquiring two agencies.

Those deals will be announced within about a month, he said.

Mr. Meredith, who formerly worked at Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co., Milwaukee, was known as a brash and confident executive.

He may have run up against expectations that were difficult to meet, said Kenneth Kehrer, a bank insurance consultant in Princeton, N.J.

"There is this sense that banks are fertile ground for insurance sales," said Mr. Kehrer.

But many banks are discovering that the profits from selling life insurance are paltry compared with those from mutual funds and annuities.

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