The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. plans to revamp its annuity lineup and target business owners as part of an initiative to develop its wealth management business.
Last week, it announced a new corporate strategy aimed at expanding its assets under management by better aligning its two companies, Hartford Life and Hartford Property and Casualty. It announced it would change its dual-silo structure so Hartford acts as one company with three consumer divisions: commercial markets, consumer markets and wealth management.
The company, which announced the reorganization as it repaid $3.4 billion to the U.S. Treasury, hopes that by stressing its suite of investment products it can improve cross-selling and increase assets under management.
“We want to do a better job of comprehensively serving business owners,” said John Walters, the president of its wealth management business. “When we look at all of the Hartford, we have one million businesses as customers, but from a wealth management standpoint, we never focused on going after their wealth management needs. This is a new initiative for us.”
Walters said in an interview Monday that he plans to cross-sell the company’s life insurance and retirement capabilities to these existing customers that own businesses.
Analysts said it will be an enormous challenge for Hartford to compete with Vanguard Group, Fidelity Investments and Charles Schwab Corp. because in certain areas, Hartford’s distribution relies heavily on these firms and they may be less apt to distribute Hartford’s products if they are competing directly with them.
“Creating a platform with all the products on it very rarely succeeds just because you want it to,” said Russ Prince of Prince & Associates in Shelton, Conn.
Walters said investors will be drawn to Hartford because they are more risk sensitive than they were two or three years ago “and the yields on other income alternatives, like CDs or bond funds, are just not good alternatives for providing income.”
Hartford’s corporate reorganization came after a six month strategic review by Hartford new chief executive officer, Liam McGee, according to Walters. “Before the review, we started to look at what our strengths were and how we could capitalize on them and what needed to be changed or adjusted,” he said. “We realized that we needed to be one company that focused on personal protection, commercial protection and wealth management.”
In wealth management, Hartford has about $200 billion in assets under management globally, but to expand it needs to improve and update its annuities, Walters said. “We recognized that we have a strong mutual fund business, a fast growing 401(k) business, a strong life insurance business and an annuity business that we are relaunching,” he said. “The Hartford was known for its annuities over the years, but we needed to make different product decision in order to better position ourselves for the future.”
Walters said the company is in the process of closing its old annuities and introducing new products that are simpler, more cost effective and “focus on income.”
“In the annuity business, there are a lot of historical products that we are just not selling anymore,” he said. “We will wind them down and revamp. We are working our way out of riskier annuities and into a more steady income driven business. … Retired and retiring customers need products that can provide income today.”
As part of its new annuity lineup, it launched Hartford Personal Retirement Manager in the fall. The annuity combines a traditional variable annuity and an income annuity into a single contract. Walters said the product has received approvals in half of the U.S. states and is being sold at most major financial services companies.
“We are pleased with the early reactions from distributors to the product,” he said. “It has been a slow start because it is a unique concept, but we think we can build momentum this year.”
Though he wouldn’t make any predictions for asset growth, Walters said he expects to generate “strong growth” from sales of mutual funds, retirement products and life insurance. He said he expects strong distribution through banks and independent financial advisors.
“I think bank clients that are more sensitive to risk in their portfolio and more income-centered are interested in products that have less equity risk and more guaranteed income,” he said. “I think we can continue to be a big player in the bank environment.”
Last week, Brian D. Murphy, an executive vice president in Hartford’s life division, said the company planned to develop its presence with independent financial advisors to increase life insurance sales. Historically, it had developed the majority of its life insurance business through “mega-banks,” but sales through these companies has declined in the past couple of years.
Walters said that life insurance sales remain “a little unique.” He said, sales through independent advisors remain a “big and growing part of our distribution,” he expects sales to remain strong through banks.
Prince said that Hartford has an uphill battle ahead. “The company has to try to repay Tarp and build its business as best as possible at the same time,” he said. “Some will be done better than others, but you can’t triage this stuff. You have to try your best and go for everything that you can. They are still a big company with a lot of resources. They are going to find out what really works by going into the field and trying.”
Burton Greenwald of BJ Greenwald Associates in Philadelphia said that Hartford had a successful wholesaling program for its variable annuity business and could use that experience to increase cross-selling of all of its products services, but the company has “some credibility issues that they have to figure out and those can be very difficult to overcome.”
This story has been reprinted with permission from Financial Planning.
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