Huntington Bancshares of Columbus, Ohio, has started selling quick-approval term and whole life insurance policies in its branches, and U.S. Bancorp of Minneapolis is about to do so.

Both companies have been selling the Great-West Life and Annuity Insurance Co. policies by phone and mail for 18 months. More recently they started selling them online as well - Huntington at the beginning of the year.

Branch sales started for Huntington in March. U.S. Bancorp branches will begin offering the policies next month.

To buy them, consumers need to answer only five questions. There are no medical exams or follow-up questions. Great-West, which is based in Englewood, Colo., says the whole process takes five to eight minutes. Huntington says it takes 10.

Most insurance policies are designed to be sold through a specific channel, said William Browning, president of Huntington's insurance division. The Great-West policies are the first it can market through all its distribution channels, he said.

Because the policies are simple and quick to sell, they are tailor-made for Huntington's platform sales force, Mr. Browning said. Huntington sells other insurance products through 18 dedicated agents.

The Great-West policies are not likely to generate much cross-selling, Mr. Browning said. Instead, they are meant to fill a gap in Huntington's product line by appealing to lower- and middle-income customers, who tend to be underinsured.

According to a survey, 70% of Huntington and U.S. Bancorp sales of the Great-West policies will be made through branches, said John Roeske, the insurer's vice president of institutional markets. The reason is that branches are the main source of contact for most bank customers, he said.

Alden L. Toevs, an executive vice president at First Manhattan Consulting Group in New York, said life insurance products offer banks "a modest add-on, as opposed to a significant new revenue opportunity."

By selling life insurance, he said, banks are trying to get people accustomed to the idea of coming to the bank for all their financial products.

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