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The ongoing integration of the financial services industry has led a Boston college to partner with insurance and mutual fund organizations to provide the kind of academic cross-training executives and educators say is needed in the new business environment.

In fact, the New England College of Finance changed its name to that earlier this year from the New England Banking Institute in recognition of the convergence of banking, insurance and investment interests.

More recently, the college took an even more significant step, forming a partnership with the Boston-based Insurance Library Assn. and the National Investment Company Service Assn.

Through the partnership, the three organizations will be able to draw on each institution's resources to offer educational programs that will fit the needs of financial services professionals of the future.

"With banks and insurance merging and, really, mutual funds getting involved as well, it no longer made sense for us to market ourselves as a banking education institution," said Kate Crowell, development manager for the NECF. "Basically, we are doing it in response to market demand."

And in the months ahead, the college plans to take the new courses online in partnership with the University of Wisconsin, so that any financial services professional with Internet access will be able to take advantage of its course offerings. UW will handle the machinations of putting the courses online.

"The pending Citicorp-Travelers merger and other consolidations within the industry demonstrate to all of us the financial services industry is very much one sector, and we have to think of ourselves as one sector, not as subsets," said Phillip J. Edmundson, president and chief executive officer of Boston-based insurance broker William Gallagher & Associates and chairman of the Boston-based ILA's board of trustees.

The ILA is a Boston-based education and research association with more than 800 corporate members; it provides literature, information services and professional education in insurance and related areas.

Working with the New England College of Finance, the ILA will develop licensing programs for banks to sell insurance, and together they will provide degree and certificate programs for insurance personnel at all levels.

"Clearly, the history of the New England College of Finance has been to provide learning opportunities for entry-level and early-level employees in the banking and financial services industries," Mr. Edmundson said. "In that same way, this will be an attraction to those in the insurance industry. I think it will be very similar."

"There are a few colleges or associations that may provide some learning as regards banks in life insurance, but this is an opportunity to bring all this together," said Robert Goldberg, president and chief executive officer of the Wellesley Hills, Mass.-based NICSA.

"The resources are there. It's a question of how to put the resources in the proper place, and this is what's happening," Mr. Goldberg said.

Mr. Edmundson sees the partnership as being an important step in recruiting, retaining and developing key insurance industry personnel.

"The partnership probably has a couple of benefits. One is that it will essentially allow the students at the Insurance Library to receive college credit for the classes that we conduct," he said.

The college grants associates' degrees and now has the capacity to offer bachelors' degrees through partnerships with other educational institutions in the Boston area, as well as a graduate certificate program through Boston University.

"We are able to work with (the ILA) to develop a new curriculum with college credit attached," Ms. Crowell said.

According to Mr. Edmundson, the ILA and the New England College of Finance will develop college-level programs in insurance and risk management that will lead to degrees and certificates through the college and its partnering academic institutions.

"A second benefit is that the library has as one of its core missions providing education on insurance topics to anyone," the ILA board of trustees chairman said. "We have had banks as members of our organization for many years."

The potential for offering online educational opportunities to insurance professionals throughout the world is yet another plus of the partnership, Mr. Edmundson said.

"That is certainly another attraction," Mr. Edmundson said. "The New England College of Finance has devoted a significant amount of time to developing those distributed education programs."

Ms. Crowell said she expects the College of Finance Online to be up and running in January or February of 1999.

"It's a full-fledged college credit course, so it's not easy," she said. The online program was beta-tested by approximately 10 students this summer, and "we really got some excellent feedback," Ms. Crowell said.

The college initially plans to offer three courses online: Fundamentals of Banking, Fundamentals of Insurance, and Fundamentals of Mutual Funds.

"Then we will be rolling out courses to fulfill the requirements of our associate degree online," Ms. Crowell said.

Ultimately, the college also plans to offer custom-designed training and development programs to interested insurance, banking and investment companies.

The College of Finance's typical student taking courses on campus "tends to be late 30s, early 40s, has a family, doesn't have time to go to school," Ms. Crowell said.

"We try to make it as convenient as possible," she said, emphasizing that courses have been offered on weekends and in evenings to accommodate the schedules of full-time employees.

The program will become more convenient still with the debut of the online courses, though the profile of online students might differ somewhat from those on campus, Ms. Crowell said, because they'll need to have strong backgrounds in using the Internet.

"I would see people in pretty highly technical positions who really need a basic knowledge of these three areas," she said.

But, she said, as the convergence of banks and insurance continues, she expects to see professionals in each of the three areas making up the new program -- insurance, banking and investments -- taking equal advantage of the opportunities the partnership will provide to learn more about the other two areas.

"We're expecting to have interest across all three layers of the financial services industry," Ms. Crowell said.

"We're really excited about all these opportunities that are coming up and all the people who have been knocking on our door," she said. "We do really kind of want to roll out gradually, make sure we're hitting the right people.'