With a new chief, Kevin Eichner, at the helm of the St. Louis insurer GenAmerica Financial Corp., the company aims to get better at distributing its products through community banks.

“We think community banks in particular — in the $2 billion to $3 billion range — are a good market to make into a permanent distribution channel for us,” he said.

Mr. Eichner, who is succeeding the retiring Richard Liddy, is no stranger to helping insurers do strategic planning. He came to GenAmerica three years ago from the management consulting firm Collaborative Strategies, and also has a strong background in the banking industry.

This background should serve him well as he continues to move GenAmerica toward the goal of becoming an integrated provider of financial services products to both mid-level and high-end customers. “For middle-market customers, the biggest issue for banks selling insurance is speeding up the turnaround process,” he said. And for the high end, “how do you integrate the higher level knowledge needed to sell a high-level [variable annuity] policy?”

For banks distributing the products, Mr. Eichner added, there are other difficulties, due to the need to change the way both customers and managers think. “It’s easy to sell on fee income and ease disintermediation fears. But banks have to establish a sales-oriented culture, get people the technical knowledge, and get calling officers and others comfortable with insurance as a product category,” he said. “Officers have always been afraid that a brand-new product line could cost the relationship.”

Mr. Eichner intends to do several things to improve GenAmerica’s reach into the bank market. First, he will be expanding his one-and-a-half year-old Bank Partners program, which helps smaller community banks get into the life, securities, and annuities business. He will be hiring more wholesalers and relationship managers, and pointing out to calling officers certain customers needs that cannot be met with traditional banking products.

“If a bank wants to be in this business, it should get in, and not just to cross-sell — it should put a dedicated team together and let experts do it,” he said. For banks to sell nontraditional products successfully, “they need to decide to be something other than a bank.”

He emphasized that such a shift is not for everyone, but if a bank “wants to capture more of a customer’s lifetime value, it must change the client’s mindset, and the bank must be seen as something beyond what it’s been in the past. To do this, you need an organizational shift. People such as calling officers, who have customer relationships, must see themselves more as advisers.”

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.