Savings Bank Life Insurance Co. of Massachusetts is cross-selling insurance products with a local property and casualty provider.

The Woburn-based life insurer has been selling Plymouth Rock Assurance Co.'s auto insurance to its policyholders for about two months. SBLI of Massachusetts plans to offer the products to its bank customers shortly.

And Boston-based Plymouth Rock has had some of its agents selling SBLI of Massachusetts' low-cost life insurance policies.

This is the first time SBLI of Massachusetts has looked to another insurer to sell its products. The life insurer is trying to diversify sales after its 1992 conversion to a stock-owned company. It had been owned by consortium of 60 banks.

"We live and die by selling life insurance," said Robert K. Sheridan, the president and CEO of SBLI of Massachusetts. "But the more ways you can take advantage of your distribution channel, the more you can drive revenues."

The idea of SBLI was created and promoted at the turn of the century by Louis Brandeis, a Boston attorney who later sat on the Supreme Court. In the wake of several insurance scandals, Mr. Brandeis said savings banks could offer low-cost, safe insurance by pooling premiums. In 1907 the idea became a reality in Massachusetts.

Last year SBLI of Massachusetts sold $4.1 billion in life insurance, up from $3.7 billion in 1997 and $2.1 billion in 1996. Direct sales by its 75 agents account for 85% of sales with the remaining 15% being made by 350 bank agents in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Maine, Mr. Sheridan said. About 200 banks offer products from SBLI of Massachusetts.

Plymouth Rock, a 15-year-old company, has more than 100 agents and premium sales were $100 million in 1998. It was Mr. Sheridan's idea to cross-sell, said Paula W. Gold, vice president and general counsel for Plymouth Rock. She had worked with Mr. Sheridan when he was president of the Massachusetts Bankers Association and she was the state's secretary of consumer affairs.

SBLI of Massachusetts is promoting the effort through statement stuffers and direct mail, Ms. Gold said. So far, SBLI of Massachusetts agents have sold 297 Plymouth auto policies, with $307,000 in premiums.

"It's gone quite well given that it's a new endeavor," Ms. Gold said.

City Savings Bank, a $365 million-asset thrift based in Pittsfield, Mass., that has sold SBLI since 1912, has not been approached about selling the auto insurance. But it would be interested in exploring the possibility, said Timothy Carlow, savings bank life insurance officer.

The thrift's sales staff members are not currently licensed for such sales, Mr. Carlow said.

Eventually, SBLI of Massachusetts also plans to add homeowner's insurance to its product menu. That would come from Bunker Hill Insurance, another Plymouth Rock company, Ms. Gold said.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.