As banks bolster their insurance programs, most people surveyed by an insurance group indicate that they would feel pressure to buy policies from the same banks they borrow from.
About 61% of the 1,996 people questioned said they strongly agreed, agreed, or probably agreed with the statement: "If banks sold homeowners insurance people would be expected to buy their homeowners insurance there to get a loan." The finding, which seems to confirm a fear expressed by some in the insurance industry, was part of a quarterly Public Attitude Monitor done by the Insurance Research Council, which also found that few customers are buying insurance from banks.
The last time the question on pressure was posed - in 1992, well before bank insurance programs were generally available - it produced a similar result. "With the passage of financial services reform, we decided to repeat it," said Elizabeth Sprinkle, the council's senior vice president.
The group is the research arm of the American Institute for CPCU, an insurance industry educational organization that trains and certifies candidates for the "chartered property casualty underwriter" designation.
One expert on banks in insurance disputed the study's finding, saying that many other studies have shown consumers who actually bought insurance through a bank do not feel pressured.
"Those that have bought insurance from banks have resoundingly rejected the accusation of opponents of bank insurance that they felt coerced," said Michael D. White, president of Michael White Associates, a Radnor, Pa., consulting firm.
Mr. White also criticized the survey questions' wording, which he said was vague and unclear. Studies should ask people directly whether they feel coerced, whether they know that coercion is illegal, and about their actual experiences with banks in insurance. "If that question was intended to find out whether or not consumers are concerned about coercion, it's ill-conceived and doesn't adequately convey enough information," he said.
In addition, Mr. White said, the idea that buying one product from a bank will help you get approved for another is not necessarily a result of pressure from the bank.
"A lot of consumers are looking to maximize their relationship with their various vendors," he said, and those that buy several products from a financial services provider often expect to be treated better than occasional customers and perhaps be offered price breaks. Basically, he said, many people believe they will be more likely to get a loan from a bank if they buy insurance precisely because they want it to be true.
Ms. Sprinkle said it is impossible to judge what the people who answered the questions were thinking because all the survey asked was for them to read the statement and say whether they agreed or disagreed.
The group also asked consumers about the availability of insurance at their banks. Overall, 14% said they could buy life, auto, and homeowners products at their bank; 38% said they could not buy any of these three products; and the remainder could buy one or two of the products but not all three.
The proportions of consumers who actually bought these products from a bank was much lower, the study found. Though 43% could buy life insurance at their bank, only 6% did. Forty percent could buy homeowners insurance; 4% did. And 20% could buy auto insurance, but 2% did.
The study also found that the availability of insurance through banks varied widely from region to region. For example, in New England, 61% said their banks sell life insurance; in the Pacific region, 25% said so.