A new initiative by Phoenix Cos. Inc. of Hartford, Conn., rests on the belief that financial services companies are still interested in life insurance — just in a different way.

Many financial services companies have moved away from offering proprietary life insurance, but Phoenix officials say those companies still want to cross-sell life insurance products to their clients. So the company has started a unit — Saybrus Partners Inc. — to provide life insurance consulting services to financial advisers.

Saybrus announced an agreement this week to provide the services to Edward D. Jones & Co. LP, a St. Louis brokerage company, and an executive said in an interview that Saybrus hopes to add two to four additional relationships with banks, broker-dealers or property/casualty companies by the end of next year.

Edward Cassidy, the managing principal at Saybrus and an executive vice president for Phoenix, said the platform could be "up and running at a bank within three to four months."

"We felt that there are opportunities to provide wholesaling capabilities to other manufacturers," he said. "We want to feast on the market opportunity that exists with life insurance."

Phoenix launched Saybrus — the name comes from a Scottish Gaelic word that means wealth — as part of an effort to strengthen its position in the life insurance market and develop new revenue streams, Cassidy said. Phoenix hopes to use Saybrus to increase sales of its proprietary life insurance products, but the platform is open to providing non-Phoenix products as well, he said.

For example with Edward Jones, Saybrus' wealth management consultants will work with more than 11,700 Edward Jones financial advisers to provide their customers with products from John Hancock Life Insurance Co. and Pacific Life Insurance Co., both of which have a selling agreement with Edward Jones.

"Clients are demanding choices," Cassidy said. "We are trying to offer them our expertise as wholesalers, not just Phoenix products."

Companies can bring their own life insurance product choices or work with Saybrus to select a lineup, he said.

Merry Mosbacher, a principal responsible for insurance marketing at Edward Jones, said life insurance remains a "foundational need" for clients, which is why Edward Jones is working with Saybrus to expand its offering and increase sales.

"Our agreement with Saybrus will enhance our ability to serve our clients by bringing them proven life insurance strategies customized for their individual needs to help in reaching their financial goals," she said in a news release.

In the past couple of years many financial services companies, including banks, have divested their life insurance operations to focus on core businesses. Cassidy said this has presented Saybrus with an opportunity.

"Cross-selling is going to continue to be a big driver of business for banks, broker-dealers and property/casualty companies in terms of adding revenue to the bottom line," he said. "Client retention will also continue to be critical. By helping these companies cross-sell, they can get more of a client's wallet and have the opportunity to keep these customers."

There is a significant opportunity for Saybrus in the bank channel, Cassidy said. Banks have had a "fair amount of success" with selling single-premium life insurance products, but "there are a lot of opportunities for banks to increase their life insurance sales," he said.

Burton Greenwald of BJ Greenwald Associates said banks need strong volumes to generate any revenue from life insurance sales, but "it is still critical to have these products on your shelf so that you can offer a full array of products to customers."

Initially, Saybrus plans to look to partner with banks that sell life insurance products, Cassidy said. The ideal banking company will have more than $5 million in first-year life insurance sales and may have their own insurance consultants, he said. "We are probably not a good fit with small or start-up banks that have never done life insurance sales," Cassidy said. "We are looking for banks that are looking to grow sales."

Beyond 2010, Cassidy said Saybrus will look to add relationships. "A lot of banks have been forced to cut back their insurance operations, and we understand that," he said. "I think we offer a variable cost model that could be very attractive to a variety of banks."

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