TORONTO — Manulife Financial and Zurich Canada are joining forces in a distribution effort targeting small-business owners in Canada.

Under an agreement announced Thursday, Zurich Canada brokers will refer clients who want to buy group life and health insurance products to Manulife advisers, who in turn will refer companies that need property and casualty products to Zurich Canada brokers.

The alliance stems from the April 2 sale of Zurich Canada’s group life and health employee-benefits business to Manulife Financial.

Manulife Financial is a specialist in group life, and Zurich Canada, in turn, focuses primarily on property-casualty.

Though Zurich Canada sold the business because it did not have sufficient critical mass to continue to run a group life and health business, during the sales process, both companies talked about the possible potential to sell to each other’s customer bases, according to Tom Nunn, a Manulife Financial spokesman.

The Toronto companies will test the program across Ontario this summer and plan to roll it out nationally by yearend.

Zurich Canada, part of Switzerland’s Zurich Financial Services Group, had $440 billion of assets under management at yearend, $259 billion of it in funds managed for third-party institutional and retail customers.

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