AIG Seeks to Add 600 Advisers in Benmosche’s Annuities Push

Chief distribution officer says company is "moving a bit upscale into a more mass-affluent space, incorporating retirement planning into the protection focus."

INN Breaking News, January 14, 2014

Zachary Tracer

(Bloomberg) -- American International Group Inc. plans to add 600 advisers in a push to increase sales of retirement products as some rivals retreat from annuities.

The insurer will increase the number of career agents at its newly named AIG Financial Network to 2,000 by 2019 from about 1,400, John Deremo, chief distribution officer for AIG Financial Distributors, said in an interview. The New York-based company is rebranding its American General career agent force and adding annuities and other retirement products to the life insurance that the advisers have traditionally sold, according to a statement today.

“What we’re really doing is moving a bit upscale into a more mass-affluent space, incorporating retirement planning into the protection focus,” Deremo said. “While a lot of companies are pulling back or pulling out of markets, we are expanding.”

Chief Executive Officer Robert Benmosche, 69, is focusing on annuities as more Americans approach retirement and competitors including MetLife Inc. limit sales. AIG has the capacity to grow because it sold fewer of the products than some rivals in prior years, when guarantees were more generous, Jay Wintrob, CEO of the life and retirement business, said in November.

“Bob Benmosche is quite bullish on our financial services business,” Deremo said. “He believes in this employee-driven affiliated distribution, and we plan to aggressively grow it.”

Agents, Banks

AIG Financial Network has 50 regional offices and about 100 satellite locations, Deremo said. The insurer has another career agency force, with 1,200 advisers, under the Valic brand and also sells life and retirement products via independent agents, banks, brokerage firms and its own broker-dealer network.

“We are capitalizing on the best of AIG to build an unparalleled financial network,” Benmosche said in the statement.

AIG gained 2 cents to $52.24 at 10:33 a.m. in New York. The stock has advanced 48 percent in the past year, beating the 25 percent rally of the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.

AIG expanded its independent broker-dealer network with the acquisition of Woodbury Financial Services from Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. in 2012. Benmosche last year named Erica McGinnis as CEO of the network. That operation has more than 6,000 financial advisers who don’t get salaries from AIG and are able to sell insurance and retirement products offered by other companies.

Market Fluctuations

AIG was the No. 2 seller of U.S. individual annuities in the first nine months of 2013, up from the sixth largest a year earlier, according to data compiled by industry group Limra. MetLife, the largest U.S. life insurer, is scaling back from capital-intensive businesses such as variable annuities as CEO Steven Kandarian works to cut risk tied to market fluctuations.

Annuities can help retirees secure a stream of lifetime income. In variable annuities, account values can change based on fluctuations in stocks and bonds. Some insurers sold the contracts with a guarantee that the values would rise over time.

Those promises burned insurers when stocks crashed in the financial crisis, and companies including Hartford and Sun Life Financial Inc. have retreated from the business. Prudential Financial Inc., the second-largest U.S. life insurer, has reduced some variable-annuity guarantees to expand margins, weighing on sales.

Life Insurance

AIG sells property-casualty coverage globally and life and retirement products mainly in the United States. The life division generated $4.5 billion in pretax profit in the first nine months of last year and the property-casualty unit made $3.8 billion. The company divested international life insurers to help repay a U.S. bailout that began in 2008 and swelled to $182.3 billion.

AIG is renaming retirement products that had been offered under brands including SunAmerica and American General to put them under its own name.

Benmosche has been rebuilding the AIG brand that then-CEO Edward Liddy dismissed in 2009 as “wounded and disgraced” by the rescue. In the crisis, AIG marketed to consumers under the names of subsidiaries. The company restored its name to its life insurance and property-casualty businesses in 2012 and struck a deal to sponsor New Zealand rugby teams as part of its branding revival.

AIG acquired American General in 2001 for about $23 billion. American General, founded in 1926, traces its roots to a life insurer started in 1850, according to the company’s website. 

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