Taking its biggest plunge yet into the insurance business, Hibernia Corp. has bought the Rosenthal Agency, an independent outfit with $90 million in premiums.

The New Orleans banking company bought two insurance agencies in 1998, but Rosenthal, of Metairie, La., is more than four times the size of those two combined, according to Leslie Jacobs, the agency's president.

"We are ready to cross-sell," Ms. Jacobs said. "As we have communicated to our employees, we look at this as a strategic merger. Hibernia has made it clear that it is serious about selling insurance in Louisiana, and we believe we have the sales force to make that happen."

Following the acquisition of three Texas offices from Compass Bank, Hibernia has 255 branches in 15 Texas counties and 34 Louisiana parishes. It has a nearly 11% deposit share in the Texas counties and a 23% share in Louisiana.

Rosenthal, listed as the 90th-largest U.S. insurance broker by Business Insurance, has 15 agents and 80 employees. The two other Hibernia-owned agencies are in New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

The newest acquisition makes strategic sense because of customer-base similarities, according to Ms. Jacobs.

"We write to energy, construction, marine, real estate, wholesalers, and auto dealers, and that shows a tremendous overlap in our customer base," she said. "We have our focus on the business buyer, including commercial property and casualty and employee benefits."

Ms. Jacobs will be chairman of Hibernia Rosenthal Agency. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Kirk Domingos, manager of retail and technology at $15.8 billion-asset Hibernia, said his company approached the agency. "Hibernia uses Rosenthal as our insurance agency, and we were impressed with them," he said.

At first, "We told them we didn't know and we didn't want to sell," Ms. Jacobs said. "But because they were a major client of ours, they could always be assured to get us to the breakfast table. I suppose they accomplished what they wanted to accomplish."

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