The Independent Insurance Agents of America may be about to gain a powerful ally in its bid to subject banks to state insurance regulation.
Kent Brunette, banking lobbyist for the American Association of Retired Persons, said Monday that the powerful senior citizens' lobby generally supports the type of functional regulation called for in a bill introduced by House Commerce Committee Chairman Thomas J. Blilely.
"We generally feel that the Blilely bill is an effort to create a level playing field between agents and the banks," Mr. Brunette said.
The Supreme Court recently upheld a ruling by the Comptroller of the Currency that allows banks to sell annuities, considered by the agents to be insurance products.
Passage of the Bliley bill would allow state insurance commissioners to regulate the long-term investment product, and even block the high court's decision to allow banks to sell it.
"Just because insurance may fall under the auspices of a national bank doesn't mean that it should be regulated differently," Mr. Brunette said.
"There shouldn't be any kind of disparity between whether you are doing it out of a bank or an insurance agency," he added.
While Mr. Brunette said the bill has "merits," his group has not made the decision to come out in support of it yet.
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And now for one from the "What ever happened to . . ." file.
Back in January, the Savings and Community Bankers of America - now called America's Community Banks - pressed for a summit meeting of bank and thrift trade groups.
The purpose: to develop common positions on a variety of issues facing the industries.
So far, not a thing has come of the push to create a united front.
Bob Schmermund, ACB spokesman, said on Monday that a meeting of the minds has not coalesced mainly because of scheduling conflicts.
"It certainly is not dead in the water in our view," Mr. Schmermund said.
However, Kenneth A. Guenther, executive vice president of the Independent Bankers Association of America, said that the real reason could be that the American Bankers Association is unwilling to come to the table about the looming disparity between the bank and savings association insurance funds.
"The ABA has continued to drag its feet on this," Mr. Guenther said. "The fact that there hasn't been a meeting I think clearly signals that the ABA is not willing to have such a meeting."
Yet Edward L. Yingling, the ABA's chief lobbyist, said that while his group had some initial problems with the idea of the summit, he simply has not heard another word about it.
"We had a huge timing problem getting all of our officers in one place, and we said that we wouldn't come if the agenda included a discussion of BIF and SAIF and banks paying for it, and then we never heard any more of it."
Mr. Schmermund said his group did not view the BIF-SAIF disparity issue "as a stumbling block to all the other issues," especially when a consensus could be developed on other issues, like cutting government red tape.
"It's important to find common ground," he said.
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Certainly, the O.J. Simpson murder trial has grown pretty pervasive in the media, and now it's even making its way into the turf wars between the banking and insurance industries.
The Independent Insurance Agents of America think banks are getting a free ride by not having to comply with state regulations for the sale of the annuities.
So Paul Equale, senior vice president of government affairs for the agents, likened the banking industry, which opposes state regulation of insurance sales, to Brian "Kato" Kaelin, a struggling actor who lived rent- free with Mr. Simpson last year.
"Bankers are the Kato Kaelin of the insurance industry," Mr. Equale said. "They're looking for all the benefits, but they don't want to pay any rent."