Banks are teaming up with their brokerage and insurance company rivals to thwart efforts by independent insurance agents to impose restrictions on bank insurance sales.
The Financial Institutions Insurance Association, Corte Madera, Calif., has formed a coalition that so far embraces 22 companies, including Bank Boston Corp. and Chase Manhattan Corp. The two banks are rubbing elbows with companies such as American Express Co., All State Life Insurance Co., Minnesota Mutual Life Insurance Co., and Dean Witter Reynolds that are seeking new sales outlets for their insurance sales.
"There is no overriding way to distribute insurance," said Carmen Effron, the trade group's president. "This is America, after all."
Independent agents, who have long protested banks' entrance into the field, lost a major battle last year when the Supreme Court affirmed banks' rights to sell insurance. The agents have now taken their fight to state legislatures across the country, hoping to persuade lawmakers to impose at least some restrictions on banks.
Banks and insurance companies are trying to fight off bills in 30 states proposed by the Independent Insurance Agents of America, a Washington trade group.
Many of the bills would restrict the type of bank employees who could sell insurance and prohibit banks from using nonpublic customer information to sell policies.
Ms. Effron, who is also president of Bank of Boston's insurance agency, said members must pay $20,000 to join the coalition. That pays for legal fees as well as research on what all 50 state legislatures are doing.
"A lot of people are really concerned about the independent agents' agenda," said Ms. Effron.
A spokesman for the Independent Insurance Agents of America said the group is distressed that insurance underwriters and banks are uniting to fight them.
"It would seem the big banks and big insurance companies have enough problems with consumers that they wouldn't want to go around and attack state laws designed to protect consumers," the spokesman said.
Meanwhile, one of the Financial Institutions Insurance Association's rivals questioned whether insurance companies and brokers are appropriate bedfellows for banks.
"Insurance companies have their own agenda," said E. Kenneth Reynolds, executive director of the Association of Banks-in-Insurance.
Indeed, some insurance companies have their own bank subsidiaries through which they issue credit cards. Many of the state insurance bills would force firms with such units to disclose that products sold in their affiliated brokerages are not federally insured.
Ms. Effron countered that the Financial Institutions Insurance Association does represent insurance companies as well as banks. And she said that she will pitch the coalition to banks in April at a trade conference sponsored by her organization.