PNC Bank Corp. has entered the life insurance business with a retail sales program spanning several states.

The Pittsburgh-based banking company this month tapped more than 40 sales representatives to market life insurance. The initiative is an extension of PNC's mutual fund and annuity sales effort.

PNC, which expects overall investment product sales to double, to $800 million this year, is joining a growing number of banks that believe they can make life insurance a core investment product.

"Insurance is the next great opportunity," said A. William Schenck 3d, executive vice president at PNC.

'Against the Grain'

Banks have tried in the past to market life insurance on a wide scale, with little success.

"It goes against the grain of what the typical bank customer is looking for," said Andrew Singer, managing director of Bank Insurance Market Research Group, Mamaroneck, N.Y. Customers see banks as repositories for money they will eventually use, not as places to plan for their passing, Mr. Singer said.

But Mr. Schenck said times have changed. Bank customers who have developed a taste for nontraditional offerings like mutual funds and annuities should be receptive to life insurance at banks as well, he said.

Starting with One Product

Even so, PNC is starting slowly, planning to cross-sell a single premium life product to fixed-annuity customers.

Fixed annuities and life products have similar features, such as guaranteed yields. But life policies typically pay after the holders' death, while annuities offer revenue upon retirement.

PNC plans to add more life insurance products to its retail program later this year, after the banking company's revamped sales program has had more of a chance to establish itself.

Outside Marketing Company

The program underwent a dramatic restructuring this spring, with mutual fund sales shifted from outside marketer GNA Corp. to the bank's own brokerage.

PNC also tapped Laughlin Group of Cos. to take over an annuity sales program that GNA had operated in branches. Laughlin, based in Beaverton, Ore., is spearheading PNC's insurance effort as well.

PNC must use an outside marketing company such as Laughlin to market its new offerings in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky, because laws in those states prohibit annuity and insurance sales by bank employees.

The banking company is allowed to use its own people in Delaware because that state's insurance law is more permissive.

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