Unrealistic expectations for new insurance sales programs continue to hinder bankers, a panel of bank and insurance executives warned.

During an unusually candid discussion at the Financial Institutions Insurance Association conference here last week, bankers said they had faced several basic problems such as building sales forces too quickly, overlooking core integration challenges of insurance sales by banks, and fostering unrealistic agent expectations.

CCB Financial Corp. of Durham, N.C., began its insurance operations last year and the lessons it has already learned led to a revision of its game plan, said Stephen M. Angelis, president of CCB Investment and Insurance Service Corp.

"Don't overstate from the beginning," Mr. Angelis said. "Don't get caught up in the enthusiasm of how many agents you could have in the bank."

The $8 billion-asset banking company had quickly hired nine agents who were proven sellers at independent agencies, he said. The agents' experience did little to overcome the cultural barriers that needed to be broken down for referrals to flourish, Mr. Angelis said.

When the nine agents introduced themselves at the bank's 200-plus branches, they "talked about how successful they had been," Mr. Angelis said.

"That didn't fly too well with the bankers," he added. After the meetings, the bankers were quick to forget about the agents because "the reality is: out of sight, out of mind," Mr. Angelis said.

The bank has scaled back to four agents and plans to be more deliberate in building the force back to nine by the end of next year, he said.

Like Mr. Angelis, Kathleen M. Wilcox had found at the old First Chicago NBD Corp. that agents at banks cannot operate exactly as they had as independent agents.

Ms. Wilcox, who is president and chief executive officer of ABN Amro Insurance Services Inc., spent three years at First Chicago Insurance Services after working for Chubb Insurance Group.

At First Chicago, an acquired agency in Michigan did not meld well with the bank, she said.

"Somehow (the agents) had the mind-set that life was going to go on as it always had," she said. Instead, the agents' culture clashed with the bank's. To overcome that, sales managers were selected from the bank group.

Ms. Wilcox said that as cultural differences ebbed "a miracle happened, in that all of a sudden it started to work," she said. She said she thought the program was on the right track before the bank merged with Bank One.

"Even though I saw the light at the end of the tunnel, the light turned out to be Bank One barreling at us at 500 miles per hour," she said.

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