Steven Turtz, the new president of SunTrust Insurance Services Inc., said he was hired to "significantly" expand the SunTrust Banks Inc. unit by increasing distribution within the bank.
"This is a business that is ready to explode," Turtz said in an interview last week. "We have critical mass and we have proven that insurance products can be delivered through SunTrust. Now, we just have to take it to the next level."
Turtz, who succeeded David Sweigart, said there are a lot of ways to expand distribution through the Atlanta company's bank and wealth management channels.
SunTrust Insurance currently offers its products and services almost exclusively to the bank's high-net-worth customers; if it can offer insurance products to all of the bank's customers, the revenue payoff can be considerable, he said.
"SunTrust Insurance was built as a boutique business to handle one segment of customers, but I really believe I was brought in to increase distribution to all customers," he said."There are distribution channels and customers that SunTrust Insurance is just not taking advantage of, including the retail channel," Turtz said. "I think we are in a perfect storm, because currently there are a lot of banking customers that are worried about their portfolios and their assets. We can present another product and another solution that just isn't discussed very often. We haven't taken advantage of all the customers that SunTrust provides banking to."
Turtz, who started his new job last week after a stint with Comerica Inc., said he expects SunTrust Insurance's revenue to increase by 30% to 40% in the next 24 months and that he expects to double business in the next three years.
"Quite frankly, we are heading in the right direction and we have certainly made strides in the right direction," he said. "We have the people in place to help make this a mainstream product."
In the past two years, SunTrust "didn't expand distribution" in insurance, he said.
"They filled a good space with SunTrust's wealthy clients, but since then they haven't taken advantage of their other channels. They became stagnant, and basically that is the reason I am here."
Turtz said he plans to add staff to increase sales, including hiring from other banks. "There are a lot of quality people out there today because of this environment we are working in," he said. "My goal continues to be to find ways to grow and expand, and that requires people from both a sales and marketing perspective. Taking this organization to the next level means bringing on professional from wire houses and banks."
SunTrust has steadily increased its insurance revenue over the past 10 years. According to data from Michael White Associates, a Radnor, Pa., company that tracks the investment and insurance industry, SunTrust ranked 33rd nationally in insurance brokerage income as of Sept. 30, with $12.2 million. Comerica ranked 51st, with $7.7 million.
"SunTrust has potential to grow, but it gets more difficult to get larger in terms of dollar volume as you keep climbing," Michael White, the company's president, said in an interview. "There is less room for growth at SunTrust than there was at Comerica. SunTrust is not a name you immediately think of in terms of their insurance business."
Turtz spent two and a half years at Comerica. Before joining Comerica he worked at Highland Capital and Wells Fargo. He accepted the position at SunTrust "to work at a company with a real commitment to insurance," he said. It "is just a much, much bigger and broader business base and a company that has insurance entrenched in its financial planning model."
That is not to say Comerica neglected the insurance line, but it was "more of a commercial bank," focused on its business customers, Turtz said. "The size and scale was just not as large. We were spending time building" the insurance business "on the retail and business side rather than thinking of it as a component of a wealth management platform."
"In this environment, it is important to understand taking a consultative approach to selling products," he said. "Two years ago, customers were very concerned with returns. Now they are interested in products that are insured."
White said Comerica, which was No. 72 in insurance brokerage income in March 2007, has "really been making good steady progress."
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