Bank holding companies saw total insurance income increase 38.5% last year to $15.1 billion from a year earlier, 2008, according to a Michael White Associates/American Bankers Insurance Association report released Wednesday based on Federal Reserve Board data.

Citigroup [C], Bank of America [BAC] and Wells Fargo [WFC] led the pack with $3 billion, $2.8 billion and $2.1 billion in sales, respectively. These same companies  earned the most insurance revenue in 2008, too, although Wells Fargo was in second place that year.

Several important industry events knocked the wind out of the sales of bank holding companies’ rise in overall sales, though, said Michael White, president of Michael White Associates in Radnor, Pa. For starters, BofA’s leg up over Wells Fargo is largely due to its acquisition of Countrywide, which owned the Balboa Insurance Group. Also, four out of the top 10 sellers of insurance among bank holding companies — GMAC, Goldman Sachs, American Express and Morgan Stanley — weren’t classified as bank holding companies in 2008, so their numbers are absent from that year’s data, although without their contribution, bank holding companies would have accounted for $13.8 billion in insurance sales, up 26.5% from 2008, so it was still a substantial gain, White said.

Additionally, the bulk of bank holding companies’ insurance income came from underwriting — primarily credit insurance, vendor single interest and collateral protection — rather than brokerage sales of traditional products such as property and casualty, car and life insurance, which only gained 4.7% over the prior year.

Performance was also spotty. At 609 bank holding companies, more than two thirds earn some type of insurance revenue, but White said  that for every bank holding company that grew sales, another’s sales dropped. However, he said that considering a six-year soft market in P&C insurance and two years of economic turmoil, “as a group, BHCs did very well in a horrible market.”