Do you buy all of your fruits, vegetables, meat and canned goods at the same store? Do you have all of your IRAs, stocks and bonds with the same money manager?I bet most of you answered "no" to both questions. As Americans, we value the wide variety of goods and services that are available in a capitalist society. Consider the evolution of automobiles. For something as basic as a means to transport us from point A to point B, we have literally thousands of options-considering all of the makes, models and colors-to choose from.
Retailers have long recognized that many consumers like to shop around. There are stores that only carry shoes, stores specializing in women's clothes and boutiques that only sell purses. You won't find men's ties in any of these shops.
Nevertheless, retailers also recognize that many consumers crave convenience: they don't want to spend a lot of time running around gathering food for their kids at one store and food for their dogs at another. Recently I was at a "super" Target store that packed everything from soup to slips to TV sets to Starbucks coffee under one roof. The store even had a great selection of organic produce that rivaled what a shopper could buy at a Whole Foods Market.
You may be asking yourself: "What does all of this have to do with financial services?" Seven years ago, Citicorp shook the financial world when it purchased Travelers Insurance Co. The groundbreaking merger created a mega one-stop financial services shop that industry experts hailed as the long-overdue convergence of banking and insurance in the United States.
With the announcement in January that Citigroup is selling Travelers Life & Annuity to MetLife, the financial deal of the decade has completely unraveled. Citigroup executives and analysts alike say that the marriage didn't work because the financial returns and margins for insurance cannot match the financials of the banking business. Therefore, Citigroup's decision to sell Travelers is in the best interests of shareholders.
I don't buy that reasoning (no pun intended).
The fundamentals of insurance haven't changed drastically since 1998 when the deal came together, so Citi's financial experts knew at that time that insurance wasn't a high-growth, high-margin business. I do believe that the pressure to report double-digit earnings growth on a quarter-to-quarter basis played a major role in the decision to sell Travelers, but I suspect there's another reason that Citi executives won't admit to: They were wrong when they assumed that consumers prefer to buy insurance products through the same provider of their credit card and checking account.
The one-stop financial services shop is a flawed model. The lesson here is consumers' preferences about purchasing financial services are very different than their penchant for buying CDs at a store that sells DVD players.
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