Wachovia Corp. is plunging into the life, disability, and long-term care insurance markets, and it's doing so in an unusual way.
The Winston-Salem, N.C.-based banking company announced Wednesday that its subsidiary, Wachovia Insurance Services Inc., has arranged to sell policies to private banking and trust customers and small businesses through 10 carriers.
By contrast, most banks in the insurance business tend to be able to count their underwriters on one hand.
The bank is marketing insurance in four North Carolina cities at first and plans to expand throughout the state by the end of the year and into South Carolina and Georgia early next year, said David L. Holton, president of Wachovia Insurance Services.
Mr. Holton said Wachovia's strategy is based on research. In planning to move beyond its previous insurance lineup-of credit, unemployment, and accidental death and dismemberment products-Wachovia executives made a list of the insurance products customers would need.
In what Mr. Holton described as a cherry-picking expedition, the company then looked for insurers that specialized in each product.
"We found insurance companies oftentimes specialize themselves in various niches," he said. "We wanted to offer a broad array to work with the best carriers we could assemble."
Wachovia's decision will entail more work for the bank because more carriers require more training and more due diligence, Mr. Holton said. But the tradeoff is worth it, he said.
Deciding which market to pursue became clear after interviews with bank personnel about which products customers need most. Those employees were "referring a tremendous amount of insurance out of our bank," Mr. Holton said.
Many of those customers were wealthy people and businesses in need of estate planning, as well as business owners in need of insurance coverage.
And satisfying their needs - instead of going after the mass market- would not require the bank to shell out big bucks right away for advertising or for building up a big sales force, Mr. Holton said.
Kenneth Kehrer, a bank insurance consultant in Princeton, N.J., called Wachovia's decision to go after small-business customers "innovative."
"That's an area banks have not focused on in terms of trying to sell life and health products, yet they seem to have lot of affinity with those customers," he said.
Wachovia's new carriers are First Colony Life Insurance Co., Hartford Life Insurance Co., Jefferson-Pilot Life Insurance Co., the Life Insurance Company of Virginia, Lincoln Benefit Life Co., Phoenix Home Life Mutual Insurance Co., Provident Life and Accident Insurance Co., Security Life of Denver Insurance Co., Transamerica Occidental Life Insurance Co., and UNUM Life Insurance Company of America.
A group of seasoned agents is to distribute the products. So far, Wachovia has hired nine agents, with an average of 14 years of experience.