Before the passage of the landmark Gramm-Leach-Bliley legislation in 1999, several insurers received clearance from the federal government to operate online thrift institutions. Executives with Principal Bank of Des Moines, which opened for business in February 1998, say the brand-name backing of its parent and a growing acceptance of online banking will help it grow to $5 billion of assets by 2005.Principal Bank, owned by Des Moines, Iowa-based Principal Financial Group, had $1.5 billion of assets at the end 2002-compared with $100 million in January 2000. "We had expected, when the initial strategic plan was put together, to be about $100 million at year four," says Barrie Christman, Principal Bank's president and CEO.

Principal Bank is one of a cadre of thrifts started by insurers like State Farm Group, Allstate Corp., ING Group NV, and USAA that have begun to accumulate enough assets to make them significant players in the thrift universe.

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