Barnett Banks Inc. is fine-tuning a pilot program for selling life insurance to customers in Tampa by yearend.
The Jacksonville, Fla., bank company has been a leader in banks' struggle to sell insurance products. It was Barnett's challenge of a Florida insurance law that led to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in March affirming banks' authority to sell insurance in towns with populations of 5,000 or fewer.
Allen L. Lastinger Jr., president and chief operating officer, said in a recent interview that getting Barnett's insurance business up and running became a priority after the Supreme Court ruling. Planning went into high gear after the court decision.
"I think there's a real opportunity there," he said, "and we need to act on that ASAP."
But Barnett Insurance Services, a subsidiary, put its plans on hold until after the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency had issued guidelines for banks selling insurance. The OCC did that last week, spurring Barnett to activate its plan.
The Tampa pilot will include information in customers' statements and information posted in branches directing customers to a toll-free telephone number. The phone number connects customers to licensed insurance sales representatives, said Angela Ashley, a company spokeswoman.
At first, Barnett will sell term and universal life insurance. Eventually it will roll out an auto insurance pilot program, Ms. Ashley said.
Barnett is also considering homeowners insurance, but Ms. Ashley said it is not firmly committed to offering the product.
After the Tampa life insurance program gets under way, Barnett will roll out a statewide initiative, Ms. Ashley said, the timing of which is still under consideration. But it will do so cautiously, she said.
Robert White is director of Barnett Insurance Services, reporting to Robert Nellson, executive director of deposits and insurance.
The insurance guidelines issued by the OCC last week list types of state insurance law that are not preempted by the Supreme Court's Barnett decision. The guidelines also clarify anti-tying regulations, spelling out exactly what activities are prohibited.