Some mergers go through tough sledding, but the marriage of Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Co. with MassMutual two years ago has brought nothing but smiles to Jim Woodward, general agent for MassMutual's office covering Utah, Idaho and Montana.

While sales by other insurance companies have declined in recent years, sales for MassMutual have increased because Woodward, by working closely with Intermountain Financial Group's three investment-oriented companies, can offer customers a complete line of insurance and investment services.Woodward, who is president of Intermountain Financial, expects the merger trend to continue and believes the 1,800 life insurance companies that existed in the United States five years ago will be whittled down to 100 major survivors in 20 years.

Connecticut Mutual was organized in 1846 as the sixth life insurance company in the United States. Five years later one of its agents formed Massachusetts Mutual in Springfield, Mass.

In 1996, the two giants came together in the largest merger in mutual insurance company history, and MassMutual now has 2.5 million policyholders and $100 billion in assets. Because the two companies were so similar in operation and goals, Woodward said the merger has gone smoothly.

Woodward said the major reason for the merger was to save money. The company expected $82 million in savings by the end of 1996, but the actual figure was $108 million. In 10 years, the company forecasts $1 billion in savings.

Because of the savings, policyholders are seeing greater dividends. In recent years, insurance companies have been under pressure because of lowered interest rates, high expenses and competition from banks and other institutions and many aren't giving dividends, Woodward said.

Before the merger, Connecticut Mutual had an office at 3995 S. 700 East, and MassMutual was located in the Triad Center. They had overlapping territories in Utah, Idaho and Montana. Woodward was the general agent for Connecticut Mutual and was asked to be the general agent following the merger.

He kept the two offices open for one year, but a year ago they came together at the 700 East location. As an indication of the merger not having an adverse impact on business, Woodward said MassMutual wrote $6.5 million of new life insurance in 1997 and $40 million worth of business in investment contracts through IFG.

Woodward started IFG in 1981 to provide a complete package of investment services to small business owners and professional people. The group consists of Intermountain Financial Benefits, a group benefits company; Intermountain Financial Consulting Inc., a registered investment advisor company; and APA Services, a pension management company.

He said the merger has made the relationship between the insurance company and IFG stronger. "For small-business owners, they can get all of these services handled in one place," Woodward said.

IFG has 60 full-time financial service professionals and 30 support people in 15 offices in the three states who sell life insurance and the investment services. Woodward said most of the financial services professionals stayed with the merged company and must be pleased with the merger because sales in the last two years have increased.

Connecticut Mutual was known as the "blue chip company." When the merger occurred, MassMutual adopted that motto. Woodward said MassMutual will continue having its blue chip enterprise program, which honors companies for overcoming adversity and becoming successful.

Winners in this year's program will be announced April 30 during a luncheon in the Little America Hotel.