State Farm Insurance Cos. recently finished training agents to sell banking products in three more states - New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada - and initiated training in six others.

Of State Farm's 477 agents in the three states, 448 have been trained to sell home equity loans, auto loans and leases, and savings and checking accounts. The company is now offering the same training, which is voluntary, to 1,568 agents in Alabama, Colorado, Indiana, Mississippi, Utah, and Wyoming.

Earlier, about 1,300 had been trained in Illinois and Missouri.

The Bloomington, Ill., insurance giant, whose Internet bank has been operating since March, expects to have 16,000 agents trained nationwide by 2002. The bank has $162 million of deposits and $133 million of loans.

"Our customers have been vocal in letting us know that they'd appreciate the opportunity to access financial services products through our agents," said Dick Luedke, a spokesman for State Farm. "If we can pick up some new customers along the way, that's great. But this is happening because of our current customers and their desires."

State Farm is one of many insurance companies making inroads in traditional banking products.

Allstate of Northbrook, Ill., expects to have some of its agents trained to sell variable annuities and mutual funds by yearend.

And MetLife Inc. of New York is buying $80 million-asset Grand Bank of Kingston, N.J. The purchase would be MetLife's first foray into the banking industry. Financial terms of the deal, which was announced last month, were not disclosed.

MetLife says it plans to use the one-branch bank as a springboard to offer cradle-to-grave financial services to its 11 million policyholders across the United States. The bank would be renamed MetLife Bank and provide asset management services and retail banking that would dovetail with MetLife's life insurance, annuities, and investment products.

Ken Guenther, executive vice president of the Independent Community Bankers of America in Washington, said State Farm's agent force makes the insurance giant a threat to banks.

"They are throughout Main Street America, and that makes them a formidable competitor," Mr. Guenther said. "The letters we get at the association show a lot of our members are worried."

State Farm, which took in $44.6 billion of revenue last year, has 80,000 employees and insures one in four homes and one in five cars in this country.

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