An insurance distribution start-up led by a high-profile executive has its eye on becoming a major player in the affluent and corporate insurance markets.
National Financial Partners has spent $87 million of its $125 million in seed capital from Apollo Management to buy 28 independent insurance agencies. The agencies' combined annual earnings exceed $15 million.
And at least another 20 deals will be completed within 45 days, National Financial said. The New York-based distributor expects to have 300 financial services firms under its wing within five years and plans to go public in a few years.
Running the new company is Jessica M. Bibliowicz, the daughter of Citigroup co-chairman Sanford I. Weill and formerly the president of John A. Levin & Co., an investment advisory firm.
Ms. Bibliowicz said she was attracted by National Financial's strategy of banding agencies together for broader product offerings and pricing advantages, though granting principals continued autonomy. Principals get a stake in the earnings of their own company and of National Financial.
"The formula is incentive-oriented because what you want to do when you acquire these firms is keep them on the road to growth," Ms. Bibliowicz said.
She predicted that National Financial would appeal to customers who prefer to deal with a local business but get the product selection and price advantages of a large-scale operation. Ms. Bibliowicz called the strategy "a winning combination."
Though insurance producers have long banded together into groups-one National Financial acquisition was the producer group PartnersFinancial- National Financial is making plans on a grand scale.
"The evolution of the financial services business has gone through cycles, and the current pressures on the individually owned insurance agencies are really intense," said Robert L. Rosen, National Financial's chairman. "They need to somehow have an association that gives them the size."
James Overholt, a consultant from Milliman & Robertson Inc. in Chicago, agreed that agencies need partnerships to succeed. "It's simply a matter of people trying to survive," he said.
"With that kind of size you're almost to the point where the tail can wag the dog," Mr. Overholt said.
While on the acquisition trail, National Financial has "bumped" into a lot of banks looking to buy insurance capabilities, said Mr. Rosen, who has been laying the company's foundation for nearly a year.
National Financial's edge, he said, is that it has "been created and capitalized to create a new distribution channel" that won't be dominated by banks, wire houses, or large insurance companies.
When banks acquire agencies, they buy the whole operation from the principals and then take away autonomy by making them bank employees, he said, transaction."