A Pennsylvania bank is diving into insurance sales by creating a title insurance agency in partnership with a local underwriter.

Reading-based Main Street Bancorp teamed up last week with T.A. Title Insurance Co. of Media to form Main Street Agency. The bank plans use its position as the leading provider of mortgages in Berks County to build fee income.

"We are heavily involved in real estate lending, both residential and commercial," said Norman E. Heilenman, senior vice president. "We're looking provide as many products to our customers as possible."

T.A. Title said this is its first bank partnership but it has two more in the works. T.A. Title has mastered the process of creating jointly sponsored agencies by making 30 deals since 1986 with real estate and mortgage brokers, said Ken Kirkner, vice president of strategic alliances for T.A. Title.

That experience - as well as the company's network of closing agents sprinkled across the state - was a draw, Mr. Heilenman said. Since Main Street Agency has just two employees, he said, T.A. Title's sales network can provide extra support to the bank's 40 branches and 13 mortgage centers.

The $1.2 billion-asset bank expects to sell $15 million to $20 million of coverage to its customers during its first full year of operation. "We have fairly moderate expectations," Mr. Heilenman said.

Mr. Kirkner said T.A. Title projects that 40 of every 100 Main Street Bancorp mortgage customers who are buying title insurance would choose to use the new agency.

The bank may look to develop relationships with real estate agents who refer customers to insurers but it doesn't plan to avoid dealing with agents who recommend other title insurers, Mr. Heilenman said.

"The one thing we're not doing is trying to diminish the relationship the customer has with the Realtor," Mr. Heilenman said.

Shirley Holland Fry was hired as manager of the new agency. She was a co-owner of Holland Abstract Ltd. for 25 years and worked for a law firm before that. An experienced closing agent has also been hired.

Mr. Kirkner said creating start-up agencies poses little risk because there are few title insurance claims.

Forming an agency with a bank posed no special challenges aside from verifying the mortgage volume numbers provided by the bank, Mr. Kirkner said.

In addition to Pennsylvania, T.A. Title operates in New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Ohio, Maryland, and Florida. Last year it had premium sales of $13 million.

The bank will consider adding other types of insurance products, Mr. Heilenman said.

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