Insurer and wealth manager taps first Black female CEO

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An insurer and wealth manager has tapped a veteran executive who will be the first woman, Black person or member of any minority group to be its CEO.

The 111-year-old Ohio National Financial Services is promoting Barbara Turner from COO, effective Jan. 1, after the retirement of current CEO Gary “Doc” Huffman, the firm said Nov. 23. A 23-year veteran of the firm based in her hometown of Cincinnati, Turner also previously served as CEO of the firm’s independent broker-dealer arm, O.N. Equity Sales (Onesco).

Her hiring stands out in the industry. Just 1% of the more than 100,000 executives, senior-level officials and managers in finance and insurance were Black women in 2018, according to the latest available figures from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Only 2.6% are Black, which is slightly lower than their 2.8% representation a decade earlier. Black Americans represent 13.4% of the U.S. population, according to census data.

Although Onesco is one of the smaller of the midsized IBDs with annual revenue of $68 million in 2019, it’s one of a core group of seven firms that spawned the sector in 1968. More recently, its parent firm’s 2018 move to cut off external advisor commission trails on some of its variable annuities has prompted lawsuits. Onesco plays “a very critical role in our strategy,” Turner says.

“Our financial advisors should know that the role that they serve is a critical role, a noble role,” Turner says. “Investors and policyholders need them now more than ever.”

Ohio National appointed Barbara Turner, a 23-year veteran of the Cincinnati-based insurer and wealth manager, to be its next CEO.

In 2019, the firm generated $171.1 million in earnings on direct life insurance premiums and fee revenue of $1.14 billion, according to the company’s latest annual financial results. Last year represented the first year since Ohio National shuttered its VA business in a pivot towards what the company refers to as its “core and historic strengths” in life and disability insurance.

While the firm has won dismissal of at least two putative class action claims, it still faces other cases involving commission trails filed by IBDs and financial advisors in multiple jurisdictions, the legal news website Law.com reported this past summer. Turner declined to discuss them. She notes the firm has launched fixed-index annuities and a single-premium immediate annuity.

“We will continue to evaluate whether we want to expand those offerings depending on market demand and the overall environment,” Turner says.

Huffman will have served as her predecessor in the CEO role for a decade when he steps down at the end of the year. He remains chairman of the company’s board.

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"Our view must be focused on the future, and the seamless transition of leadership is critical to our policyholders, customers and associates," Huffman said in a statement. He added that Turner has “the talent, focus and energy to lead” the firm, as well as “a deep passion and respect for the positive difference insurance and financial services make in the lives of others.”

In addition to being COO and CEO of the IBD, Turner has been the firm’s chief administrative officer, chief compliance officer and the head of O.N. Investment Management. She started her financial career in banking and later moved on to Reynolds DeWitt Securities before joining Ohio National.

“I feel I've made a meaningful contribution to the success of the organization, so it's very nice to be recognized,” Turner says. The appointment, she added, brings “a sense of pride and a sense of obligation to make sure I'm really lifting as I climb.”

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