A Connecticut bank is acquiring the largest independent insurance agency in the state as part of a strategy to serve commercial customers.

People's Bank in Bridgeport has agreed to buy R.C. Knox & Co., Hartford, for an undisclosed price. The deal is scheduled to close at the end of this month.

"I think the fact that our primary, initial focus is on commercial customers instead of personal customers is a different approach," said David E.A. Carson, chairman and CEO of the $11.4 billion-asset bank.

Knox, which sold $115 million in premiums last year, specializes in property and casualty insurance. It has 85 employees at its Hartford office.

A majority of the growing number of banks snapping up insurance agencies are looking to retail customers to build insurance sales.

"I think that property and casualty insurance is an easier sell than life insurance," said Mary Ann Godbout, a consultant with Conning & Co. Banks "will leapfrog over life insurance," she said.

But bankers generally have not gotten the word about how deals like People's and Knox's can get them into this line of business, Ms. Godbout said.

Mr. Carson knows the insurance business well. Before joining People's in 1983, he led Middlesex Mutual Assurance Co., an underwriter based in Middletown, Conn.

He views commercial insurance as a means to deepen customer relationships.

People's looked at the top 10 agencies in Connecticut before choosing Knox, Mr. Carson said. In addition to its commercial focus, Knox has handled the bank's insurance needs for years.

Knox would be run as an independent agency and retain its 105-year-old name. People's ownership will be advertised in a secondary manner to add its own name recognition, Mr. Carson said.

Further acquisitions are not planned at the moment, he said.

"Our first goal is to work out our plan with our association at R.C. Knox and plan a growth strategy," Mr. Carson said.

He said cross-selling opportunities will be developed. "We're both very happy that it will enhance what we are doing," Mr. Carson said.

The deal would also help Knox operationally. It has had to outsource for operations and marketing assistance; that would be handled within the People's organization.

Knox's product line includes commercial and personal property and casualty, health and employee benefits, bonding, risk management, and pension services.

The bank already offers Savings Bank Life Insurance through its 400 licensed representatives. It has $1.4 billion in policies.

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