A sweeping approach to relationship management it started implementing two years ago is a big reason Allstate Life Insurance Co. of Northbrook, Ill., now tops the list of fixed annuity sellers through banks, an executive said.
The Allstate Corp. unit, which uses the marketing name Allstate Financial, posted $1.16 billion of second-quarter bank sales of the annuities, enough to bump American International Group Inc. from the top slot, according to the research firm Kehrer-Limra.
AIG and its predecessors had led the pack since 1996, according to Kenneth Kehrer, the Limra International Inc. unit’s founder.
Kevin Slawin, who became the president of distribution at Allstate Financial last year, said it is reaping the rewards of programs begun about two years ago.
“We’re focused like a laser on distributing fixed annuities in the bank channel,” he said.
Two years ago Allstate began using an outside firm to interview executives at its bank partners. That firm, which Mr. Slawin would not identify, produces report cards grading service, products and other areas, and showing where the annuity carrier needs to improve.
In many cases, as a result of feedback, Allstate has changed its relationships with partners from a single representative to multiple points of contact, he said.
Allstate executives are assigned to work with their counterparts in areas from operations to products to technology, Mr. Slawin said. “That’s become very powerful for us, and it also opens the doors for us to come in and create a robust relationship.”
In the product realm, Allstate has managed to differentiate itself with its T-Link annuities. The patented products, essentially flexible-premium deferred annuity contracts, are linked to five-year Treasury notes.
The annuities were introduced in 2002, with a variant introduced in 2003. They are designed to help investors keeping pace with rising interest rates. “It’s for those consumers who think rates are going up,” Mr. Slawin said. “In the second quarter an awful lot of consumers were concerned about interest rates clicking up.”
First-half sales of those products, risings in tandem with rates, more than tripled from a year earlier, Allstate said.
The unit’s overall first-half sales of fixed annuities jumped 56% as other carriers lost ground, according to the Kehrer-Limra report. Of the 27 carriers ranked in the report, only seven reported second-quarter increase in sales from a year earlier.
AIG’s second-quarter sales dropped 38%, to $1.06 billion.
Fixed annuities were outselling variable ones as recently as last year, Mr. Kehrer said, but the flat yield curve has hurt carriers by driving money into certificates of deposit and elsewhere.
The Kehrer-Limra report also showed that few carriers did well in bank sales of both fixed and variable annuities. Most often, carriers reported gains in variable products and losses in fixed ones.
Only four companies — Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., John Hancock Financial Services Inc., Lincoln National Corp., and Ohio National Life Insurance Co. — posted second-quarter increases in sales in both categories.
Hartford Financial, the longtime leader in variable annuity sales, took the No. 1 spot in overall annuity sales. Its second-quarter variable sales rose 16% from a year earlier, to $1.3 billion, and its fixed sales rose 136%, to $68 million.
John Hancock has long been strong in fixed annuities, where its second-quarter sales rose 27% from the same period last year, to $124.4 million. Meanwhile, its sales of variable products increased 53%, to $336 million.
Manulife Financial Corp., the Toronto company that bought John Hancock Financial Services in 2004, has been selling variable annuities under the Hancock brand since then through Essex Corp., the third-party marketer that John Hancock bought in 1999.
Though Allstate did well in fixed annuities, sales of variable products marketed under its name declined 22% from a year earlier, to $128 million. This past spring Allstate agreed to sell its variable annuity business to Prudential Financial Inc. The Newark, N.J., company would administer the annuities and distribute them under the Allstate name, Mr. Slawin said.
Other big second-quarter gainers in variable sales through banks included Pacific Life Insurance Co., whose sales rose 40%, to $956 million.