... and increases affinity partnerships to boost business

Co-operative Insurance Services (CIS) is set to expand sales in 2003 by increasing access to its direct sales operation and raising its number of affinity partners.

CIS currently offers insurance through `smile', the internet arm of the Co-operative Bank. It also offers its products through the Co-operative Group and Lincoln Co-operative Society.

It is understood that CIS will open up access to its online sales to more of the public. It will also begin negotiations with co-operative societies all over the

UK to sell motor, household and travel products.

A spokesman said the organisation has stopped selling pet insurance due to poor claims.

Existing affinity deals are centred around motor products and it is understood this would be extended to household products.

CIS chief operating officer Finian O'Boyle said that while other distribution channels would expand, CIS would continue to concentrate on its face-to-face sales force.

This formed a core part of its integrated distribution strategy following the strategic formation of Co-operative Financial Services (CFS) earlier this year, he added.

CIS has 3,000 agents and 120 offices across the country. "This will see the

Co-operative Bank and CIS working together to widen their distribution through shared customer databases and greater product lines," he said.

"At a time when some financial services companies are withdrawing from traditional markets, the formation of CFS offers us an opportunity to reach new customers.

"A recent initiative to offer the bank's mortgage product through the CIS sales force has seen applications and targets exceeded by more than 500% in the first two weeks."

A CIS spokesman confirmed that the insurer had invested in a new technology system, so motor and home products would be live on CIS agents' laptops.

O'Boyle said: "CIS has, through harnessing the power of the co-operative movement, entered into a number of affinity deals with other co-operatives.

"This has enabled CIS to reach new co-operative customers and to offer business direct to them for the first time."