Affiliated Financial Services Inc., a wholesaler of insurance products, has teamed up with an Internet company to help banks start virtual agencies.

The Web-based GroupAdvantage Insurance program, distributed by Consumer Insurance Services of America Inc., includes property/casualty and life insurance products from multiple carriers, said Richard J. Graham, the president of Englewood, Colo.-based Affiliated.

GroupAdvantage "allows a bank to go into the insurance business immediately," Mr. Graham said, and it gives banks a consolidated approach to insurance marketing. It also lets agents compare rates with only one input of customer information, he added.

The program is being used successfully in warehouse retailing. Shoppers at 56 Sam's Club stores in New Hampshire, Michigan, Illinois, and Arizona can buy insurance policies at in-store booths, said John F. McCarthy Jr., head of product distribution for Beverly, Mass.-based Consumer Insurance Services.

Affiliated, which has 125 clients, plans to announce the partnership formally at the Financial Institutions Insurance Association conference in Scottsdale, Ariz., this month. Several banks have expressed interest in the program, Mr. Graham said, but no contracts have been signed.

The GroupAdvantage program would charge participating banks an up-front fee based on asset size. Banks would also have to buy equipment and pay advertising and support fees, Mr. McCarthy said. The program should appeal mainly to community banks trying to enter the insurance business but keep costs down, he said.

Banks would save money since GroupAdvantage lets one agent cross-sell products, said Arthur A. Athanas, chief marketing officer at Consumer Insurance.

Some bankers, however, were skeptical that one salesperson could effectively sell all types of insurance.

"Normally the life guy doesn't want to know anything about property/casualty, and vice versa," said Jack Cussen, senior vice president of Summit Insurance Services, a unit of Princeton, N.J.-based Summit Bancorp.

Roger Dunker, the president and chief executive of Cleveland-based KeyCorp's insurance unit, said a unified platform would cut costs and increase efficiency.

"If you can save money and have better products going to the consumer, it's a win-win," he said.

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