In the spirit of Deep Blue's triumph over chess player Gary Kasparov, an Akron, OH-based bank insurance agency is bypassing traditional agency and direct mail solutions in favor of a computer counterpart-Virtual Agent- that automates the personalized marketing, sales and distribution of insurance products.

At this time last year, newly hired Felice Larmer was faced with reviving $5.3 billion-asset FirstMerit Corp.'s dormant insurance agency. "I had all these proposals on my desk from lots of people who were willing to take my deposit base and mass-mail life insurance solicitations. ...And I get a small piece of the commission," says Larmer, president of FirstMerit Insurance Agency Inc. "I didn't really want to do that. Direct mail just doesn't work that well anymore."

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