Agents Ride A Learning Curve In Selling Bank Products

The idea that customers can walk into an independent agency and find insurance and bank financing products under one roof might seem like a logical fit, but knowing what is right for a given client requires some experience and a thorough understanding of all the financial services being sold.

Essential to success in selling bank products, agents say, is having a good organization behind you providing support. Such organizations should educate insurance agents about product lines and selling opportunities, and be there to assist them if providing broader financial services becomes overly burdensome or too complicated.

For agents working with InsurBanc, based in Farmington, Conn., chartered by the Independent Insurance Agents of America, the key is learning a whole new game and product line.

“Theres a learning curve,” acknowledges Mark Connelly, president of Connelly Agency Inc. in Fairfield, Conn.

Throughout its 55 years of existence, the agency has had an interest in financial services, explains Connelly, noting that his agency has been involved in group plans, life insurance and real estate.

The agency knows how to cross-sell and does it well, he points out.

However, when InsurBanc opened its doors, Connelly saw the opportunity to offer banking services to clients and still remain independent.

In the first four months that the agency was affiliated with InsurBanc, Connelly says it closed on over $1 million in home equity loans. He says it helps to have a product that is very competitive with other banks.

Indeed, he adds, having banking and insurance services under one roof “adds value to our client relationship that they can only get here.”

The agency is building on this success, adding more banking services for customers, and soon hopes to be able to market mortgages.

However, there have been stumbling blocks. “Our main business is insurance, and although InsurBanc offers a great product, it takes away from our insurance business [in terms of time spent selling],” Connelly observes. “Until we have a separate, dedicated profit center [for bank products], it will be a little cumbersome.”

Learning bank products thoroughly to market them better to the customer also helps, Connelly says. With that knowledge, it is easier to identify the right product for the right client.

“Our approach is not to sell the client another product, but to sell them something that is better than what they can get out there,” Connelly says.

Hiring someone who knows the banking business can also be a great help, according to Dave Wyrsch, president of Van Dyk Group. The agency, based in Long Beach Island, N.J., has three office locations and lots of experience in real estate.

Wyrsch says that having that extensive real estate experience and hiring someone with deep understanding of the banking system helped pave the way to joining InsurBanc.

Wyrsch credits InsurBancs representatives for their ability to instruct and assist his agency as it moved into loan services. But, he adds, the agency is moving incrementally, adding services as it feels comfortable with them.

“We are just expanding and doing more and more,” Wyrsch points out. “We have certainly not taken advantage of [all the banking services] yet.”

Looking to make a splash in financial services, the Thompson Group in Parker City, Ind., wanted to market many services to its customers quickly.

As David George, the agency’s vice president of commercial insurance and financial services, explains it, the first step two years ago was for Andy Thompson, the current owner, to embrace the idea of full financial services–a concept he says that Andy’s predecessors had actively fought for years.

After discussing the idea with partners Michael Stafford and Ron Shumacher, the agency decided to make a commitment, and hired George. With his extensive banking experience–most recently as a vice president with American National Bank in Muncie, Ind.–he became responsible for setting up a financial services department within the agency.

With only an inkling of what the agency wanted to do, George began researching banking options. He came into contact with Assurance Partners Bank of Carmel, Ind., the subsidiary of the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, and later Grange Bank, owned by Grange Mutual Casualty Company of Columbus, Ohio.

Wanting to become a “full blown broker,” the first step was to market banking products to customers, which meant training the staff to recognize cross-selling opportunities, especially when it comes to mortgages and small-commercial loans.

But the marketing did not stop there, explains George. It extended to the use of billboards, radio spots and advertising in local home magazines.

“People who are interested in buying a house pick up these magazines, and when they see a full-page ad they think about us and realize we do everything,” observes George.

Other marketing techniques the Thompson Group uses are e-mail and fax campaigns to send out a weekly one-page memo, which, for example, would inform customers about the current 15-year fixed-rate mortgage or give information on refinancing. Such marketing techniques have resulted recently in the processing of 74 mortgage applications within 51 days, he notes.

For insurance agencies contemplating entering the financial services area, especially in a big way, having someone with banking experience is important, advises George. Even if the agency is just contemplating getting into financial services at some point and finds someone with minimal background in the field, this is someone they should hold onto in case the agency decides to expand further into banking.

He also advises that if an independent agency is not well versed in banking, they should consider getting into the referral end of banking first “to get their feet wet.”

However, customer service remains the main priority, no matter what financial services business you are in, he says.

“Typically, we dont lose business because our sales culture lends itself to phenomenal customer service,” George observes. “If you are not servicing your customer, someone else will.”

Mark Ruquet is an assistant editor of NU’s Property & Casualty/Risk& Benefits Management edition.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, April 15, 2002. Copyright 2002 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.