The chief of Allmerica Financial Corp.'s bank channel division is preparing to leave that post to take up other responsibilities at the financial services company.
Larry C. Renfro, head of Allmerica's institutional services division, will be in charge of seeking new distribution channels. He plans to make the transition over the next few months.
The company, based in Worcester, Mass., remains committed to selling through the bank channel, spokesman Michael Buckley said.
"The change will evolve over time, with the transition of organizational responsibility (for Mr. Renfro's division) to other key management at the company," he said. "Different pieces may go to different people."
The division, one of four within Allmerica, derives most of its revenue from selling retirement plans to employer groups, not banks.
"We see banks as a marketplace of opportunity," said Mr. Buckley. "Banks are important to us in a strategic sense."
The company sells mutual funds and annuities in addition to life, retirement, and property and casualty insurance.
Mr. Buckley said that bank sales are rising, but he declined to quantify them. And he could not immediately say how many banks the company deals with, describing it only as "several." He also would not say what the alternative distribution channels might be.
Industry consultants said Allmerica may decide to pursue additional affinity marketing-teaming with trade groups, unions, and other associations to market products and services to their members. It might also pursue Internet marketing or direct-response programs.
Many insurance companies are exploring alternative distribution to reach the large segment of the population they feel is underinsured, said Michael White, an insurance consultant in Radnor, Pa.
Insurers once sold almost exclusively through traditional agencies, but they have developed significant sales presences in banks, securities firms, and financial planners.
"The more traditional distribution system is very expensive, and it doesn't see all the potential universe and customer segments of that universe," Mr. White said.
Mr. Renfro's new project is one of a number of initiatives that have reshaped the company.
In 1989, John F. O'Brien, the second-ranking executive at Fidelity Investments, left to become president and chief executive officer at Allmerica. He brought in a range of Fidelity alumni-including Mr. Renfro- and other mutual fund companies, as well as big accounting firms and companies outside the financial services arena.
In 1995, Allmerica changed from a mutual insurer to a stock company. It has adopted more of a "fast-paced, hard-driving marketing kind of approach," Mr. White said.
Revenues have been flat-they were $3.2 billion in 1990 and $3.3 billion last year. But earnings have increased from $67 million in 1990 to $137 million last year.