State Farm Insurance Cos., which is aiming to have agents trained to sell banking products in all 50 states by yearend, expects to have them in 11 states within a month.
That is when agents in six states - Alabama, Colorado, Indiana, Mississippi, Utah, and Wyoming - who signed up for the two-day training program will have completed it, spokesman Dick Luedke said Thursday. The company had hoped to have them all trained last month, he said.
About 95% of the 1,569 agents in those states volunteered for the training, in selling home equity loans, mortgages, auto loans and leases, and savings and checking accounts, Mr. Luedke said. About 1,900 agents in five other states - Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, and Nevada - got such training in 1999 and last year.
The Bloomington, Ill., insurance giant expects to have 16,000 agents trained in bank product sales by the start of 2002.
State Farm's thrift was chartered by the Office of Thrift Supervision in November 1998 as State Farm Financial Services. It started operating in Central Illinois and St. Louis in May 1999 under the trademark State Farm Bank. Internet operations began last March.
As of Nov. 30 the thrift had $241.6 million of deposits and had made $146.3 million of consumer loans and $76.4 million of home mortgage loans.
Its focus is on consumer-oriented financial products, such as savings and checking accounts, complementing State Farm's focus on personal insurance, such as auto and homeowners.
"Our customers have been vocal in letting us know they'd appreciate the opportunity to access these financial services products through our agents," Mr. Luedke said. "If we can pick up some [banking] customers along the way, that's great. But this is happening because of our current customers and their desires."
"The challenge is to get people to bank at an insurance agency," said Stan Ommen, president of the thrift. "I believe the trust the agent has with policyholders is very good. The agent lives and works with the community. That's a big advantage if you want someone to keep their money with you."
Agents trained in selling banking products will not actually accept deposits or approve the loans. However, they can provide customers with pre-addressed, postage-paid envelopes for deposits. Customers can also make deposits via the Internet, wire transfers, telephone, or direct deposit. In Illinois, customers can make deposits through a small network of ATMs. And on the loan side, the agents will fill out the forms and refer them on, much as the initial loan or mortgage officer that a customer would see at a traditional bank would do.
Training is done in full-day sessions that include role-playing as customer or salesman. Agents are taught about the products, how to handle the paperwork, and how to follow up with customers.
State Farm, at the same time, is pursuing its plan to become a full-service financial institution in other ways. This week it added 10 mutual funds to its menu in four states - North Carolina, Virginia, Missouri, and Kansas - and is looking to have mutual funds sold nationwide by its agents by March.
However, the life insurance and mutual fund products are not sold through the bank, and State Farm says it has no plans to do so.
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 the United States.