NU Online News Service, Aug. 21, 5:16 p.m. – Italian consumers now buy more life insurance from banks than they buy from insurance agents.

Bancassurance sales accounted for about 70% of premiums from new life sales in Italy in 2000, and banks are continuing to dominate new life production this year, according to a report on the Italian market from Standard & Poor’s, New York.

Poor stock-market conditions have hurt Italian bancassurance sales by depressing demand for some bancassurance products, S&P says.

Profit margins on bancassurance products tend to be narrower than the margins on products sold through traditional agencies, and increased competition will make the margins even narrower, S&P predicts.

But Italian banks are holding on to rapid growth in market share and sales volume. S&P notes that bancassurance premium income increased an average of 25% per year between 1998 and 2000, to $38.6 billion.