Though hundreds of banks have bought insurance agencies since the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act made it easier for them to do so, Yardville National Bank in Hamilton, N.J., is getting into insurance the old-fashioned way - through alliances.
"Running a community bank today is challenging enough," said Timothy J. Losch, Yardville's executive vice president and chief operating officer. "Learning a whole new business would not be a productive use of our time."
Under the three deals $1.6 billion-asset Yardville announced Thursday, it will refer clients needing personal lines or commercial lines, Mr. Losch said, but "our expectation is we would have more interactions with companies than we would with individuals."
The three in-state marketing partners are: Borden-Perlman Insurance Agency Inc. of Lawrenceville, Nottingham Insurance Agency Inc. of Hamilton Square, and Princeton Assurance Corp. in Princeton.
All three sell personal and commercial property and casualty insurance as well as life, group health, and disability coverage, Mr. Losch said. The bank made agreements with the three because each has certain areas of expertise, he said, but all the agencies can write most major lines of insurance.
The alliances, Mr. Losch said, let Yardville enter the insurance business without the risk involved in buying an agency.
Tina H. Orben, vice president and managing director of YNB Financial Services, the bank's insurance and investment arm, said other area banks have bought agencies and then had difficulty running them. Yardville does not want to make the same mistake, she said.
Ms. Orben recently obtained her life insurance license and is getting licensed in other lines so she can talk authoritatively to clients about their coverage.
The Yardville executives said that the insurance agencies would split fees earned on business referred by the bank, but they declined to detail the financial arrangements.
Alliances like these were common before banks could buy agencies outright, and they are an effective cross-selling tool, said Jeffrey A. Myers, vice president of public affairs for the Independent Insurance Agents of America in Alexandria, Va. Joint ventures "remain an option for both banks and agents, especially for agents who are not yet ready to sell," he said.
Though his group had no data on the number of similar bank-agency alliances, Mr. Myers said that last year his group got nearly 600 requests from members for information about how to form and manage such ventures with banks.