Allstate Corp. renamed its life insurance and financial services subsidiary on Thursday to deemphasize the insurance side.
The company is trying to attract the retirement planning business of its middle-income customers and has broadened its wholesale distribution.
"We've changed our business and have moved beyond traditional insurance products," said Tom Wilson, president of the unit, Allstate Financial, formerly Allstate Life Group of Companies.
Allstate's effort to broaden distribution has been going on for several years but was accelerated this year. Now the insurance products the company underwrites are sold through 50,000 non-Allstate agents, including independent insurance agents, bank representatives, and securities firms.
The company has also beefed up the product lines available to its career agents. A year ago it started training its agents in Florida to distribute mutual funds, variable annuities, and variable universal life products from outside vendors. "These are the products our agents say their customers ask for," Mr. Wilson said.
Allstate also began a program last year in which its career agents can earn a "personal financial representative" credential. About 2,500, or 20%, of its agents now have the credential, which requires completion of a training curriculum and National Association of Securities Dealers tests for series 6 and 63 licenses.
The training is voluntary for current agents, but any new agent hired by Allstate Financial must get these licenses within a year.
The company would like to see half its 13,000 agents credentialed by 2002.
Industry observers said that some of these moves were long overdue. James Overholt, senior consultant and manager of financial services programs at Milliman & Robertson Inc. in Chicago, said Allstate is on the right track.
"You have to diversify," he said. "And while people aren't going to flock to their Allstate agent to buy mutual funds, they might in time. People didn't flock to banks when they started offering mutual funds either."
However, Allstate should have adopted these changes sooner, Mr. Overholt said. "They held on to their old model for a long time, so it's about time" the changes were made, he said. The company's delay put it "at a competitive disadvantage."
Michael White, president of Michael White Associates, a Radnor, Pa., bank insurance consulting firm, said the many Allstate employees who are property and casualty agents are not as tuned in to investment products as are life and health agents.
"Property and casualty agents, for the most part, have not been great cross-sellers of life products," Mr. White said. "Life people have been much better at realizing clients' investment needs."
Allstate was ranked fifth among insurers distributing annuities through banks in the second quarter, selling $790 million of fixed annuities and $581 million of variables, according to Kenneth Kehrer Associates of Princeton, N.J.