Two companies - Quotesmith.com and software firm Concentrex Inc. - are developing plans to help banks sell insurance through the Internet.

Quotesmith.com Inc., which provides instant quotes and sells insurance, says it wants to set up links to banks' sites, and it has already linked itself to Suretrade, the discount broker owned by FleetBoston Financial Corp.'s Quick & Reilly unit.

Grant F. Kuphall, vice president of business development at Quotesmith, said the Darien, Ill., company has started marketing its service to the top 100 banks.

Mr. Kuphall said his plan's advantage to banks is twofold: Quotesmith offers policies from more than 300 underwriters - a much wider selection than most banks can offer - and banks get use of the intricate technology required to generate real-time insurance quotes.

Quotesmith says that for now it aims to supplement rather than replace banks' insurance programs.

"If you have a complicated financial picture, you should use a financial adviser," Mr. Kuphall said. Quotesmith lowers the cost of selling insurance to customers by using an inexpensive delivery system for low-margin products, he said. If the bank has a licensed insurance agency, Quotesmith would share revenues from sales. If not, the bank would receive a referral fee, because by law only a licensed agency can draw income from insurance sales.

Other companies offer similar services to those of banks. InsWeb Corp., an insurance marketer based in Redwood City, Calif., has set up links to banks including WingspanBank.com, a unit of Chicago-based Bank One, and PNC Financial Services Group of Pittsburgh.

Concentrex is taking a different tack. Concentrex Inc., which provides software to banks for retail functions, such as loan origination and data processing, formed an insurance agency in February.

Beginning in April, the Portland, Ore., company plans to provide a business-to-business portal that would let bankers sell insurance in branches. The aim is to make it easy -and profitable - for banks to sell low-margin insurance products such as property, casualty, and life policies, said Michael A. Prairie, director of insurance services and products.

Concentrex works on the theory that insurance sales require a high level of interaction between buyer and seller. Bank employees setting up car loans or mortgages, for instance, could tap into the Concentrex system to find and sell a related insurance policy.

Through an alliance with National Regulatory Services in Lakeville, Conn., a Thomson Financial company, Concentrex helps set banks up as licensed insurance agencies so that the banks can share in revenue from the insurance sales.

Concentrex has not sold any of its 5,000-plus bank clients on the insurance program yet, but several have expressed interest, Mr. Prairie said.

Less than 1% of insurance sold is purchased on-line, according to Gomez Advisors, an electronic commerce consulting firm in Lincoln, Mass. But industry analysts say that will change radically in the next few years.

"There's not a tremendous commission on term insurance," said Valerie Jordan, president of Jordan & Jordan, a consulting firm in Belchertown, Mass. "The quickest, least costly way to do it is to put it on-line."

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.