Acquisition No. 3 for Tongue, BrooksIt's been more than...

BANKING & FINANCE

October 08, 1992|By David Conn

Acquisition No. 3 for Tongue, Brooks

It's been more than two years since R. Peter Urquhart arrived back in Baltimore, promising to grow Tongue, Brooks & Co. Inc. into a regional insurance brokerage firm.

True to his word, this week the chairman and CEO announced the company had purchased Wolman-Hecht Inc., a Baltimore insurance agency, completing a series of acquisitions that he had planned since he returned to his hometown in April 1990.

Mr. Urquhart, 57, grew up in Baltimore and worked for Alexander & Alexander, the insurance brokerage that moved its headquarters from Baltimore to New York some time ago.

Mr. Urquhart ran the Baltimore operations in the mid-1970s and the mid-Atlantic region in the early 1980s before he left for A&A offices in Houston and New York.

Through his contacts with executives at Crown Central Petroleum Corp., which owns Tongue, Brooks, Mr. Urquhart heard about the opening at the top of the insurance brokerage in 1990.

He came back promising to launch a modest acquisition campaign.

The first step was the purchase in December 1990 of Health Plan Administrators of Danbury, Conn. A year later came Towson-based H. Francies LeBrun Co. Inc. And this week Mr. Urquhart reported the merger with the four-person Wolman-Hecht, a full-service insurance agency in Baltimore.

"Three at this point is a good number for us," Mr. Urquhart said.

Muller's report is one to bank on

If you are a banker or a bank consumer and you read no other government report this year, be sure to read the latest one from Bank Commissioner Margie H. Muller.

And don't be frightened by its catchy name: "Report of the Bank Commissioner to the General Assembly on the Effects of Regional Reciprocal Interstate Banking and Emergency Interstate Acquisitions."

For the real meat of the report, skip past Ms. Muller's plea for caution toward national interstate branching (sure to warm the heart of Mercantile Bankshares' H. Furlong Baldwin, a longtime opponent of interstate banking). Instead, head straight to the sections on rate and fee schedules for consumer services.

Here you will find information on every major bank in the region, comparing the fees and rates charged on everything from checking and savings accounts to credit cards, ATM machines, auto loans and home mortgages.

While the rates already are out of date, the fees are likely to last a bit longer. And in any event, you'll get a sense of where the banks stand in relation to each other. For instance, most banks charge $25 for checking account overdrafts, but Chase Bank of Maryland charges $20, and Mellon Bank of Maryland's fee is $27.50.

For consumers, the appeal is obvious. For the bankers, the report is an easy way to stick your head out the window and see what your competitors are doing up and down the street.

A financial mantra for the bleak times

When times are bleak, when the Dow Jones falls hundreds of points a week, when each new economic report spells continued recession, just keep repeating one word: stocks.

That mantra will make you money over the long run, says Alex. Brown Managing Director Robert S. Killebrew, as evidenced by this simple historical test:

First, pretend it's the year 1789 and put a dollar under your mattress. By 1989, inflation could have pumped that dollar up to $14.89, Mr. Killebrew said in a speech last month to the Maryland Association of Certified Public Accountants.

Now, go back to 1789, put that same dollar in a sort of 200-year individual retirement account comprising a basket of U.S. stocks. In 1989 you could've cashed out at $12.16 million.

For the near term, Mr. Killebrew said he favors banking companies because of the industry's continued consolidation. Financial services firms will benefit from the swing toward saving rather than consuming, he said.

And eschew the established players in older industries, such as Bethlehem Steel, he said. Instead, look for niche companies to thrive, such as Nucor Corp., a specialty steel manufacturer.

By the way, here's a hint about market timing for those too impatient to wait a few centuries: Mr. Killebrew, who said he fears Gov. Bill Clinton's election, nonetheless had to report that the stock market and the economy since the Depression generally have performed better under Democratic presidents than Republican ones.

Many put lives on line before their money

Couldn't resist this one: A survey that Shearson Lehman Brothers released last week found that "Americans are more likely to risk their lives than their money." Less than 20 percent of Americans say they have taken a "really big" financial risk for the promise of a big reward, according to the telephone survey conducted by the Roper Organization.

But more than a third of the 1,296 respondents said they have risked their lives.

Perhaps not surprisingly, men proved more adventurous (foolhardy?) than women: 51 percent of the men said they'd risked their lives compared with 20 percent of the women. And one-quarter of the men had risked their money, vs. 13 percent of the women.

There's a lesson in there somewhere, but I'll have to figure it out after my bungee-jumping appointment.

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