Now Summit wants to convince Fleet, which is wary of insurance, that it does.

many months Thomas Sharkey was aware of the rumours that after purchasing Summit Bancorp, the parent corporation, FleetBoston Financial Corp. would close his insurance firm.

Now Summit wants to convince Fleet, which is wary of insurance, that it does.

But "nothing could be further from the truth," said Mr. Sharkey, the chief executive officer of Summit Insurance Advisors, in an interview last week. He said he is convinced that Fleet is in the insurance business for good.

Once they are confident that the business model is sound, he predicted that they would want to grow it significantly.

Now Summit wants to convince Fleet, which is wary of insurance, that it does.

The Fleet-Summit deal was announced Oct. 1. In February, Mr. Sharkey said, he was called to Boston to discuss insurance opportunities with top Fleet management.

Fleet, which grew to $200 billion of assets by buying Summit in March, is asking him and his team of insurance experts to teach it how to cross-sell insurance and banking products.

Summit Insurance Advisors, which is based in Cranford, N.J., is slated to change its name this summer -- most likely to Fleet Insurance Advisors.

The insurance business has been made part of Fleet's small-business services unit. Mr. Sharkey reports to Norman J. DeLuca, the managing director of that unit, which handles small-business banking services, Fleet's payroll processing business, and merchant card operations -- all potential cross-selling partners for business insurance.

The agency nonetheless has its work cut out for it. Its first task is to get past Fleet's own experiences with insurance -- most of them bad.

"Fleet tried a couple of insurance initiatives in the past that were not terribly successful," Mr. Sharkey said. These included hiring life insurance agents to sell in the branches and sharing mailing lists with insurers to market property-casualty insurance.

The effort produced "lots of expense and very little revenue" and turned off Fleet senior managers to insurance altogether. "They dipped their toe in the water a few times and didn't enjoy a lot of success," he said, so Fleet focused on other noninterest-income businesses such as Quick & Reilly, its discount brokerage subsidiary.

But Mr. Sharkey said he is committed to showing Fleet that selling more traditional insurance lines can succeed in a bank.

Summit Insurance Advisors was started in 1997 and is one of the more aggressive bank agency operations selling both individual and business lines of life and property-casualty insurance. In the past three years, it bought six commercial agencies, Mr. Sharkey's among them. Summit bought his agency, Meeker Sharkey Financial Group Inc., a year ago January.

Summit, one of the top bank-owned agencies in the country, has focused on cross-selling to commercial customers and providing risk management services for businesses, Mr. Sharkey said, as well as selling life insurance, retirement planning, and property-casualty insurance to individuals.

"We're budgeted to do between $60 million and $65 million in revenues for 2001 -- that would be up about 10%" from last year, he said.

His agents use bankers to introduce them to key customers, who can then turn to the agents for advice on all manner of insurance problems
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