NU Online News Service, Sept. 19, 12:27 p.m. – Two leading bank associations in insurance and investment services have announced plans to merge.

The boards of directors of the Financial Institutions Insurance Association, Valley Center, Calif., and the Bank Securities Association, Wayne, Pa., announced the merger at a recent BSA conference in Chicago.

The new group will be known as the Bank Insurance and Securities Association and will be based in Wayne.

The groups decided to put the headquarters in Wayne because Wayne is close to Washington and many of the larger financial service firms, according to Richard Starr, chairman of the FIAA and director of strategic insurance initiatives at ABN AMRO Financial Services, Chicago.

The BSA has about 210 members and the FIIA about 240 members. Only a few companies have overlapping memberships, association executives report.

Gregory Vacca, president of the FIIA, predicts the current FIIA office will close, but he says Raymond LuBien, the managing director, and the staff of three part-timers support the merger.

A decision on LuBien’s place with the new organization has not yet been made, FIIA executives say.

Starr says executives of the FIIA and the BSA discussed a merger a year or so ago. Active negotiations began in the last six months.

Vacca says he expects a legal agreement to be completed by year-end. Although there is not yet a legal agreement, a number of details of the merger have already been worked out:

  • Heywood Sloane and Robert Grief of the BSA will be co-administrative directors of the new group.
  • Both boards will merge entirely, forming, in Starr’s words, “a merger of equals.” “I will take on the role of directing legislative and regulatory activity of the association,” Starr says.
  • FIIA President Gregory Vacca and Michael Mortensen, president of the BSA, will be joint presidents of the BISA until its first annual conference March 2-4, 2003, in Naples, Fla. Vacca is first vice president of California Federal Bank, Sacramento, Calif., and Mortensen is president of PNC Brokerage, a unit of PNC Financial Services Group Inc., Pittsburgh.
  • Bank Insurance Marketing, a publication of the FIIA, and Bank Securities Journal, the BSA’s online magazine, will continue to publish, Starr says.
  • The FIAA fall conference, the group’s last meeting under its original name, will be held as scheduled in Chicago Oct. 27-29. The BSA will run a portion of that meeting, just as the FIIA ran part of its partner’s meeting in mid-September.

Executives at the BSA and the FIAA say the merger has far more to do with changes in the structure of the financial services industry than with the slumping economy.

The BSA and the FIAA were both established in the late 1980s. The groups “came from common roots,” Sloane says.

Starr, who has been chairman of the FIIA since its founding in 1989, says organizers originally expected the groups to deal with different issues. “But many of those issues have been resolved, and the dissimilarities have become fewer.”

Attendance at both groups’ annual conferences has continued to grow, but it has become increasingly obvious that combining bank insurance and bank investment services is a logical decision, Sloane says.

“If you look at what’s happening in the industry, insurance sales and marketing [in banks] are falling under same wing as securities and brokerage efforts,” Vacca says.

Vacca notes that since the Congress enacted the Gramm Leach Bliley Financial Services Modernization Act in 1999, bank sales of life insurance and related products have increasingly been handled by banks’ investment reps.

Sloane says he hopes the merger translates into greater value for members of both the BSA and the FIAA.

The merger “makes a stronger association,” Sloane says. “It doesn’t double revenues, but if your cost structure is controlled, you are in a position to deliver a lot more value to members.”

Carmen Effron, president of CF Effron Company L.L.C., Westport, Conn., and a director of the FIIA, says legal and regulatory issues will continue to be a major concern for the merged group.

“Our goal is going to remain the same, to make sure banks will be able to sell securities and insurance under the law,” Effron says.

The merger is the second involving bank insurance groups over the past year and a half.

In March 2001, the Association of Banks-in-Insurance and the American Bankers Association Insurance Association merged to form the American Bankers Insurance Association, under the American Bankers Association in Washington.