BankAmerica Corp. has boldly jumped into the world of car crashes and earthquakes, a place many other banks dare not go.
And the bank says it has found success there. Sales have been strong since January, when BankAmerica Insurance Group began offering auto insurance and expanded its small homeowners insurance program, said Russell Lurcook, senior manager with the insurance group.
The bank exceeded its full-year projections for auto insurance in just the first half, and sales of homeowners insurance have more than tripled, he said.
BankAmerica's results are likely to get wide attention in the banking world because they show the property/casualty business can pay off for banks.
"Bank of America's experience suggests this can be a major source of business for banks," said consultant Kenneth Kehrer of Kenneth Kehrer Associates, Princeton, N.J.
There are plenty of good reasons for banks to avoid the property/casualty business.
Insurers are avoiding states where regulations keep profits low and natural disasters abound-states such as California. BankAmerica is based in San Francisco.
Policyholders who are unhappy with claims decisions may blame the bank, even though the bank does not make the judgments. And property/casualty commissions are smaller than those banks get for life insurance sales.
Still, Mr. Lurcook says BankAmerica is happy with its results, though the only surprise is how quickly the products have caught on. A customer survey done a year ago indicated customers would buy property and casualty products through the bank, he said.
"We know our customers trust us," he said. "We do the due diligence for the customers. We check (carriers) out thoroughly, both from the claims standpoint and the financial perspective."
Property/casualty products are promoted via an "800" number on ATM screens and receipts, account statements, and phone messages played for callers who are on hold.
Selling policies, handling claims, and doing paperwork is handled by the carriers, which pay the bank commissions or fees.
The homeowners insurance is underwritten by Century National Insurance Co., Minnesota Mutual Fire and Casualty, Safeco Insurance Co., Hartford Insurance Co., and Chubb Insurance Co. Hartford also provides auto insurance.