John Myers isn't leaving to chance that his two daughters get the education he wants them to have.
If Mr. Myers, a 50-year-old architect from Albany, N.Y., died suddenly, his wife, Lee, would be able to pay off the mortgage on their home and keep their girls on track toward college, thanks to a $500,000 insurance policy. Loss of income due to injury or illness is covered by disability insurance.
With retirement not too far over the horizon and kids to take care of for many more years, and a house and automobiles to protect, insurance needs are great for Mr. Myers and many people his age.
Moreover, needs are especially great for complex life insurance-related products for people within 10 years in either direction of Mr. Myers' age. This possibly gives banks that stress one-on-one selling as an entree into the 40- to 60-year-old insurance market.
Banks may bring little advantage to most property and casualty insurance, which is sold largely on the basis of price. But products like cash-value life insurance, disability insurance, and long-term care protection play to the strengths of sellers with relationships with their middle-aged customers.
Even without an in-house insurance unit, a commercial banking officer might ask clients such questions as, "Have you thought about what would happen if you became disabled," said David L. Holton, president of Wachovia Insurance Services, a unit of Wachovia Corp. in Winston-Salem, N.C. "Have you thought about what would happen if your partner passed away? Have you thought about what would happen if one of you in the partnership needed to get liquidity out of the company for any number of reasons? How would you manage that?"
Term life insurance will appeal to individuals with mortgages and college expenses ahead.
"It doesn't do much good to be putting $300 a month aside for college for 10 years if you die two or three years into the process," said Mr. Holton of Wachovia, which launched its insurance business in June 1997 by inserting insurance representatives into teams of trust, private banking, and commercial banking officers.
More profitable cash-value life insurance will appeal to many 40- to 60- year-olds for its utility as an investment vehicle or a tool for retirement and estate planning, say insurance executives and consultants.
Mr. Myers has a bit of everything. He said about a third of his coverage is in whole life, a third is in term that he purchased directly from an insurer, and a third is in term purchased through his employer. He also illustrates a challenge facing any seller of insurance, calling whole life "a holdover from my father's day."
Though it might provide a loan for his daughters' education on favorable terms, he said it wasn't the best investment.
For just that reason, consumer advocates often recommend keeping insurance and investing separate. But for people who lack the discipline to invest for retirement regularly, said insurance consultant Valerie Jordan, cash-value life insurance is a good deal.
Ms. Jordan, a principal in Jordan & Jordan Associates in Belchertown, Mass., said cash-value, or permanent, life insurance grows in value like an investment at the same time that it guarantees a death benefit. Borrowing from an insurance policy's cash value can be more attractive than using conventional bank loans.
In addition, permanent life insurance can be a cornerstone in estate planning for individuals and couples with assets worth more than $625,000, the threshold for federal estate taxation. Permanent life insurance can also be a key part of succession planning for small-business owners, funding, for example, a buyout if an owner dies.
The existing market for disability and long-term-care insurance is much smaller than for life insurance, by most accounts. But these also are products that would appeal to 40- to 60-year-olds and that require the one- on-one attention that banks can provide. The incidence of long-term disability within this age group is greater than death, according to insurance executives.
Mr. Myers, the Albany architect, said his employer-sponsored disability insurance would provide him with two-thirds of his income if he was disabled for an extended period.
"Long-term care more than any other product is very market specific," said Reagan & Associates' Mr. Campbell, with interest usually beginning no earlier than age 50.
Annuities may also find great favor with banking customers between 40 and 60 years old. Many banking companies, however, sell annuities through their investment services and regard them as serving the same general purpose as mutual funds.
Insurance executives and consultants say that property and casualty insurance needs generally are not dictated by age or life stage. Still, the opportunity for banks to sell these lines grows in a few areas as customers move from a period of asset accumulation into asset preservation.
Umbrella policies, which typically wrap around homeowner and auto coverage and provide higher limits, become more important as an individual or family has more to protect. Owners of luxury items, such as expensive jewelry, might also buy enhancements to their homeowner's coverage to protect these items. Business ownership may also increase with age, offering banks opportunity to sell business insurance.
Although banks possess a wealth of demographic data about their customers, executives caution against overstating the correlation between age and particular financial circumstances.
"We try not to put too many people in a life cycle category because of age," said Roger Forystek, president of Citizens Insurance, a unit of CNB Bancshares of Evansville, Ind. Forty-year-olds may be grandparents or just having their first children, he said, and therefore have very different insurance needs.
Even so, a 50-year-old is more likely to be protecting assets than a 30- year-old and therefore may be more interested in annuities as a conservative investment, said Thomas Murray, managing director of Bancorp South Insurance Services, a unit of Bancorp South in Tupelo, Miss.
And like his counterparts at other bank insurance departments, he said referrals from private bankers or trust officers will yield more business with 50-year-old annuity customers than would mass marketing or direct mail.
Mr. Murray said Bancorp South uses direct mail, but only to generate a generalized interest in a product. For example, rather than talk about the specific attributes of a product, a mailed piece might seek to sell the idea of tax-deferred income - which annuities provide - by asking customers, "Are you tired of getting a 1099 form and having to pay taxes on your CDs?"