RBC Insurance Featuring Annuities, Fast Life Policy

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Royal Bank of Canada's U.S. insurance unit is hoping to gain ground on its rivals with the help of new life insurance and annuity products, even as it hews largely to the middle-tier customers that are its bread and butter.

"We are committed to both [product] markets," said David Black, head of U.S. insurance for RBC.

Mr. Black said RBC Insurance, which is based in Greenville, S.C., is striving to move up several notches in the ranks over the next three to five years for annuity and life insurance sales. Though it counts five million insurance customers in North America, the company is not one of the dominant players in the United States.

The business ranked 77th in life insurance issued during 2004, according to A.M. Best Co. It had $250 million of annual life insurance premiums in force as well as $400 million of annuity deposits in 2005.

Mr. Black said he would like to move the company's annuity business, currently a "top-50 player," into the ranks of the top 40 or even top 30 within a few years.

New products are part of the plan, Mr. Black said. RBC Insurance is testing a mortgage insurance product with streamlined underwriting. For loans of less than $300,000, applicants need only answer two questions rather than the usual 20 or so, and a medical exam is not required. The insurance also is portable, meaning that customers can retain it even after refinancing their loans.

"Basically, we're trying to take the pain out of the process from the customer standpoint," Mr. Black said.

The product mirrors the simplicity of the three-year-old RBC Express term life product, he said. Express, which is aimed at customers 60 or younger, does not require a medical exam, involves just a few questions, and can give a customer up to $250,000 of coverage 15 minutes after the application is filed.

"We really try to differentiate ourselves with these simple processes," he said.

Though many insurers tout fast application processes, RBC stands out because it approves the policy quickly, said Michael White, a consultant at Michael White Associates, a bank insurance firm in Radnor, Pa.

"Most everybody else is still taking 30 days," Mr. White said. "They may have an online application that goes to the office, but then it takes 30 days to underwrite."

RBC Insurance's annuity deposit growth is being powered by its equity index and fixed annuities. This fall, it plans to roll out versions of the products for distribution through its network of independent and captive agents. …