Wells Fargo & Co. and UMB Financial Corp. have each succeeded in the health savings account business, but many of their customers have come through unexpected routes.


Wells has developed an unexpectedly large business among individual account holders, while UMB has found itself doing more business directly with employers.


UMB, a Kansas City, Mo., regional bank, built its nationwide HSA distribution around a partner-based approach in which its custodial services and payment cards are tightly integrated with offerings from health plans, software businesses and third-party administrators, said


Dennis Triplett, president of UMB’s health-care-services unit.

But many employers approached the bank directly and struck deals individually for unbundled solutions. So many did so that, by last summer, UMB formally assembled a package of tools, guidance, and customer service for that customer segment, Triplett said.


“I’ve been pleased and a bit amazed that we’ve had as many of these customers as we have,” he said.


Health savings accounts, created by a 2003 law, must be used in conjunction with high-deductible insurance plans that are often available through employers. But thousands of employers in the category account for as much as 10% of the bank’s HSA business, and the proportion is growing, Triplett said.


UMB has also gotten traction among brokers and consultants, without deliberately trying to, he said. This happened because many smaller employers, exploring the possibility of offering their workers HSAs, have gotten their brokers involved in the discussions with UMB. Similarly, many larger businesses have had their consultants weigh in, Triplett said.


“That resulted in us getting to know a lot of brokers and consultants,” he said. “As they see their next employer, they have a good sense of the HSA products that they can recommend or at least have the employer consider.”


Still, UMB has no formal partnerships with brokers or consultants.

“Our model is about providing integrated product, not developing an off-the-shelf consumer product,” he said.


Customers of the services have helped UMB expand its HSA deposits this year by 27%, to $127 million, Triplett said. The bank has 91,000 individual accounts.


Wells Fargo has a similar story. Its distribution model is based on selling in tandem with consultants, health insurers, brokers and other intermediaries, said Jose Becquer, head of Wells’ health benefit services division.


A quarter of its account holders opened their accounts with the bank individually, largely through its website, he said. “This wasn’t the focus when we started it,” he said, referring to the HSA business, which it introduced in 2004. “But a lot of people are looking at how to plan for their healthcare in the future.”


The individual account holders, most of them already customers of the bank, help explain Wells’ $264 million in HSA deposits. The total is up 41% this year and represents 150,000 individual accounts.


Part of the reason for Wells'’ sharp HSA deposit growth this year is a tax-law change last year that raised contribution limits, Becquer said. Wells has also benefited from a “multifaceted” distribution strategy that uses partnerships with a variety of intermediaries, he said.


“The broker and consultant communities are critical in this space,” he said. “Most organizations have a partner to guide their decision-making on insurance coverage.”


Wells and UMB are among the top 10 providers of HSAs, according to Information Strategies Inc. in Palisades Park, N.J. Nationwide, 6.8 million HSA accounts held $10.9 billion of deposits at March 31, it said. The average account contained $1,600, it reported.

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