It was an innocent mistake, but the customer was ticked off anyway. A commercial client of PNC Bank had gotten in the mail a property/casualty insurance solicitation that greeted him by name-the wrong name.
He called and gave the bank a piece of his mind, said Susan Han Paul, the vice president who manages PNC's property/casualty business. Representatives of the Pittsburgh-based bank apologized to the customer, then called the insurance carrier to make sure it didn't repeat the mistake in future mailings.
The incident illustrates the hazards banks face in opening their doors to insurance providers.
It is not enough for the bank to do a great job, Ms. Han Paul said; its providers must do the same, or the bank will pay the price.
That message was hammered home last week in a forum on property/casualty insurance held in Orlando and sponsored by Global Business Research Ltd. The event was attended by bankers, insurance company executives, insurance agents, and others.
Property/casualty insurance is a rich vein of business, one that banks have started pursuing seriously in the last two to three years.
But if customers are displeased with the carrier's service or with a claims settlement, they could take it out on the bank by moving all their business elsewhere, some conference participants said.
The key to avoiding such headaches is keeping the customer informed and keeping on top of the underwriter, said Lee Hays, the manager of Capitol Agency, the Overland Park, Kan.-based insurance affiliate of Capitol Federal Savings, Topeka.
Once a customer's claim has been filed, the bank gets weekly reports from the carrier on the status of the claim and keeps the customer informed, he said.
As a result of that kind of attention, the bank has lost just "one or two" customers in the past two years over dissatisfaction with the property/casualty business, Mr. Hays said.
Bankers at the conference also agreed that property/casualty underwriters partnering with banks must shed their sometimes haughty approach to customer service and embrace the customer-friendly style of many banks.
That means, for instance, providing quotes fast, said Robert Nellson, who established the auto insurance direct marketing business for Barnett Banks in Jacksonville, Fla., before leaving last year to become a consultant.
Good customer service is an advantage banks can't afford to forfeit, said Mr. Nellson, who estimates that banks could capture almost a third of the property/casualty business within five years-banks' share is estimated at less than 1% now-by offering customers good service, good prices, and good products.
But Mr. Nellson contends that fears of disgruntled insurance customers closing their checking accounts, cashing out their mutual funds, and taking their business down the street are exaggerated.
"There have only been isolated incidents," he said. "Bank management tends to panic because they're looking for these things."