Make it easy and make it cheapothe rallying cry to cashing in on small business financial services dollarsoare core strategies for First Union and The Hartford Financial Services Group with a new program to sell commercial insurance to clients through direct mail and the telephone.

The bank began mailings in May to existing commercial accounts with sales of less than $5 million annually in the mid-Atlantic states. Some eastern and southern states will be added by the end of the year, blanketing a total of 600,000 First Union customers. A complete range of products is available, from property and general liability to commercial auto and workers compensation. The direct mail will be supported by a 24-hour call and claim center operated by The Hartford, which promises 15-minute turnaround time on quotes.

First Union boasts that the deal is the first time an insurer is partnering with a bank-affiliated agency to provide a direct marketing and servicing commercial insurance program to small business customers. "Part of our commercial banking strategy is to deliver products the way customers want to buy them, and not traditional bank products necessarily," says David de Gorter, president of the First Union Insurance Group. Adds Clarkson McLean, project manager of the program: "We began to look for ways to reach diverse types of businesses in diverse geographic locations but with alternative delivery methods."

Offering commercial insurance to small businesses without expanding brick-and-mortar facilities is one way to penetrate the market. "What they're trying to do is provide one-stop shopping," says Beth Summers, an analyst with Ryan, Beck & Co. in West Orange, NJ. Summers is skeptical about the profitability of selling property and casualty insurance, but says that it's more likely to be profitable if customers are getting all of the services they need. --sausner

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