a little easier.

While the bill hammered out in committee last week would have the obvious benefit of letting banks and insurers own each other, bankers operating insurance programs said the advantages would initially be far more basic.

For example, banks would no longer have to fight legal battles in states such as Texas and Rhode Island, where laws still restrict their ability to sell insurance. The legislation would also make moot the three-year-old Barnett decision that let banks use a clause in the 1916 National Bank Act that allows national banks to sell insurance if they locate the subsidiary in an area with a population of fewer than 5,000 people.

"It will enable banks to operate much more efficiently," said Richard H. Klovstad, vice chairman and chief executive officer of PNC Insurance Services, a division of Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank Corp. "I think it will improve the landscape.

The deal is "great news," said Glen Milesko, president of Bank One Corp.'s insurance unit. "I always felt it wasn't a question of 'if,' it was a question of 'when.' "

However, Richard D. Starr, chairman of the Financial Institutions Insurance Association of Corte Madera, Calif., was skeptical about what he called a "virtual agreement" to a bill that had not yet been set down in writing.

For example, the "safe harbor" provisions now in the bill could mean that banks can no longer use the Barnett decision to challenge new state restrictions, Mr. Starr said.

The provisions, included at the urging of independent insurance agent lobbyists, would let states create new restrictions on banks selling insurance.

However, on the positive side, the bill would will free up bankers to focus on selling insurance, which as a business still represents a "terrific opportunity," he said.

The Association of Banks-in-Insurance, the Washington-based competing trade group to the Financial Institutions Insurance Association, said the safe harbor provisions are onerous but necessary to a compromise. Association of Banks-in-Insurance executives have decided it would be better to fight any new restrictions state by state.

On the acquisition front, Mr. Milesko said, it may be more likely that European insurers, who already have a taste for U.S. insurance companies, start shopping for banks that have higher multiples and revenues than insurance companies. Bank One plans to focus on niche insurance markets, he said.

Mr. Klovstad of PNC said he expects to see acquisitions. "I see banks acquiring annuity companies," he said.

But for PNC -- and possibly for many banks -- it's business as usual, said Mr. Klovstad, who said the legislation would just formalize the powers banks have carved out in insurance sales.

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