Sales of funeral insurance jumped 12.6% a year on average from 1993 to 1996 and have probably continued to grow at double-digit rates, according to a new study.

Net written premiums totaled $1.136 billion in 1996. the latest year for which complete data are available, said the author, Kevin Gough, a consultant at Conning & Co. of Hartford, Conn.

"The most likely buyer is a widow or widower who has already gone through the process of planning a funeral for a spouse," Mr. Gough said. Most buyers do not shop for price, he said, and their not doing so has driven up profit margins.

Most policies are still sold by funeral directors who are licensed to sell the insurance, Mr. Gough said, but banks are poised to increase sales through financial planning.

Funeral costs now average $4,700, he said.

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