As it digests the three Fleet Financial Group branches it bought this year, a $1.1 billion-asset thrift is launching an insurance program as well.

Bangor Savings Bank, headquartered near the edge of Maine's vast northern forests, began selling Savings Bank Life Insurance to its rural customers last week, becoming the first thrift in the state to do so.

The thrift is betting that its underinsured customers, many of whom work in the forests, will welcome its insurance offerings.

"I think insurance and nontraditional products would provide us with 25 to 30% of our revenues five to 10 years down the road," said Jim Dowe, chief executive of Bangor Savings. "We are totally committed to this."

The goal is to provide products customers need while not focusing on commissions and wide margins, Mr. Dowe said. For that, SBLI was a perfect fit, he said.

SBLI, which is available only in the Northeast, is a low-cost insurance program that pools the funds of participating savings banks to be managed by a board of appointed trustees. Bangor Savings chose Savings Bank Life Insurance Company of Massachusetts to deliver term and whole SBLI.

"SBLI is definitely a product that has its place, and the Massachusetts SBLI company has been a good performer," said Michael D. White, a Radnor, Pa.-based bank insurance consultant.

Mr. White said that though the face-value limits of SBLI have recently risen to $1 million, this type of insurance does not address some higher- end customer insurance needs such as estate planning.

But Bangor Savings executives said the product meets the needs of a majority of its customers and is part of a strategy of building a more comprehensive program.

The process began in earnest in December, when Mr. Dowe enlisted Edwin D. Pierce Jr. to run its Bangor Insurance Services Inc. subsidiary. Mr. Pierce, a native Virginian who had spent 14 years with First Virginia Banks before a brief stint as a Maine-based insurance consultant, is spearheading the bank's program.

Across its expanding network that will shortly total 40 branches, Bangor Savings is asking employees to add insurance sales to their duties, instead of building a dedicated sales force as many other banks have done. Using platform sales representatives who receive no commission is a cornerstone of the effort.

"I think it's a benefit, because they are closest to the customer-they know the customer," Mr. Pierce said.

Twenty sales representatives volunteered to be among the first trained and licensed to sell the product even though they knew they would receive no additional compensation. "Our commission is a satisfied customer," Mr. Dowe said. "We didn't want insurance to change the bank."

Mr. Pierce said he would be happy with one SBLI sale per week.

SBLI, which has high ratings from the top three rating agencies, was the largest seller of ordinary life insurance in Massachusetts last year, with $116.1 million in premiums.

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