Agents Who Merged With Banks Offer ‘Marital’ Advice
By Mark E. Ruquet
A trio of independent agents who have sold their firms to banks say the key to success in an integrated operation is for each department to stick to its own specialties while proactively referring clients to one another.
As bank-agency mergers have evolved, the marriage has helped two very divergent product lines with very different marketing attitudes grow and prosper by feeding off one another without stepping on each other’s toes, say agents who have taken the plunge.
Uniting banking products and insurance sales has helped acquired agencies grow beyond what they might have achieved had they remained purely independent, these agents contend. In return, these agents say, banks get the benefit of knowledgeable insurance agents in-house, and in the best cases the marketing tools banks lack.
But that doesn’t mean the road to success has been without bumps or detours, these agents are quick to add, contending that the full potential of agent-bank marriages has yet to be realized. The learning curve is quite steep at times, agents warn.
The Hunter Agency Inc. of Shinnston, W.Va., looked at the opportunities for growth locally three years ago and felt that everything that could be developed had already been. The independent agency decided to join up with WesBanco Bank, headquartered in Wheeling, W.Va., says Bruce Martin, a principal at the agency.
Feeling they had reached their growth potential, Martin says the agency decided the melding of insurance and banking services into an all-inclusive financial services program for clients appeared to be the perfect opportunity for growth.
As the former president and CEO of Hunter, Martin is today president of insurance services for the bank. He is working to integrate the cross-selling of banking and insurance services within the new system. “Im happy I made the decision to sell the agency,” he says.
The one disappointment he says he has is that the integrated services have taken longer to grow and incorporate than both he and his banking counterparts hoped. “We have not grown as fast as we wanted,” says Martin. “We probably thought we would be where we are now by the end of our second year.”
In part, he blames the diminished pace to integrate financial services on an “unrealistic” timetable, along with a longer-than-anticipated learning process. People who are used to taking orders from customers for loans and personal accounts miss opportunities to tie in banking products with insurance, he says.
Meshing the two parts together is also a continuing effort for Dallas Patterson, vice president of insurance for Community State Bank, headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa. “Having an insurance specialist for the customer seeking financial solutions in one place was intriguing to me and made a lot of sense,” says Patterson, who sold his agency to Community in 1999.