With mass marketing campaigns for a variety of insurance products under their belts, many banks are gearing up to sell insurance to private clients.
Marketing of life, automobile, and property and casualty insurance to retail customers entails advertisements in the mail, on Web sites, and at automated teller machines.
Cross-selling insurance to wealthy clients is more involved and costly, yet can be more profitable. Their more expensive policies cover large holdings, such as closely held businesses, or may fund the cost of a family trust.
While banks do not disclose sales figures for this nascent niche business, executives say insurance is dovetailing well with the efforts of private banking groups that had already brought together asset management, trust administration, and lending.
"It's the renaissance of the entire banking industry," said Frank Jandric, a managing director of private-client services in Minneapolis for Norwest Corp.; "we are trying to make insurance part of the business."
To absorb insurance, Norwest has put agents in the same offices with private bankers so they can work together with millionaire clients.
"They sit right in with them. We try to incorporate them in the group as a whole," Mr. Jandric said. "If you treat them differently, then you wouldn't think of them as part of the core products."
Banking companies that follow this format include Winston-Salem, N.C.- based Wachovia Corp.
Banc One Corp. has taken a different tack, however. Its Milwaukee-based insurance group set up a formalized referral system with Succession Planning International, a subsidiary of Manufacturers Life Insurance Co., in which the bank owns a minority stake.
Aside from establishing their own agencies for retail insurance sales, many banking companies, including Huntington Bancshares and BankBoston Corp., have acquired other agencies that, like Succession Planning, specialize in estate and business planning as well as executive benefits.
First Chicago NBD Corp., which sent a marketing package for the lower- margin homeowners and automobile insurance businesses to 500,000 bank customers this month, is also injecting life insurance agents into its wealth management business.
"In the private banking arena, we can afford to have face-to-face relationships," a spokesman said.
First Chicago agents are already immersed in private banking teams in Michigan and Indiana and are now being adding in Illinois.
To get sophisticated insurance sales, BankBoston began a joint venture in May with William J. Lynch & Associates, an agency with offices in Boston and Clearwater, Fla. This strategy makes more sense than having private bankers get licenses, said Carmen F. Effron, president of BancBoston Insurance Agency.