Huntington Bancshares reached into the corporate insurance market with its recent acquisition of the Pollock & Pollock brokerage of Cleveland.
Huntington Insurance Services, a unit of the Columbus, Ohio, banking company, said it views Pollock & Pollock as the cornerstone of an "advanced underwriting center," diversifying plan-development skills that had been primarily focused on personal insurance.
"They will allow us to build on their experience and creativity," said William K. Browning, president of Huntington Insurance Services. "I would say the addition of the Pollock group will triple our business in 1998."
Mr. Browning would not disclose sales figures or projections, but Huntington did say Pollock & Pollock comes with $1 billion of policies underwritten by Guardian, Manulife, Cigna, and New England Financial. With the addition of Pollock's six agents, Huntington now has 18 people selling insurance. Mr. Browning plans to add 12 more through hiring or acquisition by yearend.
Founded in 1957, Pollock & Pollock developed a specialty in insurance for corporations, corporate owners, and key executives. It writes policies for deferred compensation, key-person coverage, qualified retirement programs, and estate planning.
Acquiring a firm experienced in corporate insurance is a good way for a bank to grow into that specialty, said Valerie Jordan, an insurance and banking consultant based in Belchertown, Mass. "It allows you to hit the ground running with people who know how to sell," she said.
It is also important to have compatible corporate outlooks, she said. "You want a partner who deals with customers in the same way you do."
Pollock & Pollock had been talking with Huntington for years, said Ron Pollock, co-founder of the brokerage, who became vice president and corporate insurance officer of Huntington Insurance Services. The two companies had similar goals, if different lingos, he said.
"It was like someone speaking Spanish and someone speaking Russian and getting the two to understand each other's position," Mr. Pollock said. "That's why it took so long."
He would not discuss specific sticking points.
As a former Marine Corps pilot, Mr. Pollock said he is comfortable with the banking company's structure and regimentation. He said he expects to get extensive back-office support so his agents can focus on selling to Huntington corporate customers as well as to the 5,000 to 6,000 privately held businesses around its Cleveland base.
Selling insurance to corporate clients is critical to the bank, Mr. Browning said. With insurance constituting such a large part of their budgets, companies want to make sure each dollar is spent well. If Huntington helps its customers achieve that control, it can solidify the overall banking relationship, he said.
He said Pollock & Pollock shows great creativity in developing ways to use insurance to minimize taxes in estate planning for business owners. The brokerage has also developed plans for directing corporate and personal funds toward senior executives' retirement-a challenge because of such managers' high income levels, Mr. Browning said. Standard cookie-cutter approaches do not work in this highly customized product area.
The Cleveland model is to be built on and exported over the next two years to Huntington's insurance operations in other states, Mr. Browning said. The banking company is planning no management or sales staff changes in Pollock & Pollock, he added.
The advanced underwriting center, relying on Pollock & Pollock's expertise, would serve Huntington's entire insurance network, Mr. Browning said. The center will design insurance plans to meet specific needs and conduct associated insurance underwriting functions.
Ms. Jordan, the Massachusetts consultant, said an experienced, creative brokerage can transfer skills from corporate to personal lines. "Within the corporate framework, with employee benefits you do touch the individual," she pointed out.
Agents watching a creative broker at work learn by example, Ms. Jordan said. "If you are going to acquire it-and they are good at (creativity)-you might as well put it to use."
Huntington, which has $26 billion of assets, entered the insurance arena in 1996 and plans to make additional changes in its business during the coming year, Mr. Browning said. In March it expects to announce details of a direct sales program for auto and homeowners insurance in Ohio. Selling through an "800" number in an alliance with American International Group Inc., the program is expected to operate in three states by yearend.
The company already sells term and universal life insurance.