Keyport Life Insurance Co. outpaced the annuity industry in first-quarter sales through banks, brokerages, and other third parties and an executive predicts a boost from the coming takeover by Sun Life Financial Services of Canada Inc.
Despite the stock market and a cloud of unknown created by plans to sell the Boston annuity company, Keyports bank sales of annuities variable as well as fixed were up from the fourth quarter, said chief operating officer Paul LeFevre. Suns strong ratings will help Keyport sell to banks, and so will Suns agreement to buy Independent Financial Marketing Group, Keyports sister company and its main distributor, he said.
Many of Keyports competitors including Nationwide, Allstate, Equitable, American General, Aegon, and American Skandia lost a lot of ground in variable annuities in the first quarter, according to Kenneth Kehrer of Kenneth Kehrer Associates in Radnor, Pa. Bank sales of variables dropped about 10% from the fourth quarter, he said.
Keyport said its bank sales of fixed annuities rose 23% from the fourth quarter and 64% from year-earlier, to $269.8 million. Its sales through wire houses rose 12% from the fourth quarter and 48% from last years first quarter, to $45.4 million.
The pattern was mixed for variable annuities gains from the fourth quarter, declines from a year earlier. Sales through banks rose 6% from the fourth quarter and but dropped 35% from year-earlier, to $58.4 million. Sales through wire houses rose 5% from the fourth quarter and but fell 3% from last years first quarter, to $112 million.
Liberty Financial Co. of Boston announced in early May that it would sell Keyport and Independent Financial Marketing to Sun, which is based in Toronto. The deal is expected to close in the third quarter.
C. James Prieur, Suns president and chief operating officer, said at the time that Sun would use Independent, a third-party marketer that specializes in bank sales, to increase sales of its own investment and insurance products and those of its Boston mutual fund subsidiary, MFS Investment Management.
Mr. LeFevre said being owned by Sun will make Keyport more attractive to potential partners.
Keyports ratings are very good, but Sun Lifes are better, and banks are very ratings-sensitive, he said.
The announcement that a buyer had been found was extremely well received out in our distributors, Mr. LeFevre said.
The deal will also help Sun sell its current products through banks, Mr. LeFevre said. Sun Life has a stellar reputation, but they havent really penetrated the bank market.
He said Keyports primary distribution agreements are with Fleet Bank and Independent Financial, which distributes Keyports and other companies annuities through about 70 banks.
Mr. Kehrer said Keyport may also benefit from the fact that Sun owns MFS, which in a lot of banks is a highly regarded mutual fund company. The MFS connection may open some doors for Keyport, he said.
Suns strong ratings are attractive to banks, Mr. Kehrer said. Banks tend to look at themselves as having a fiduciary duty towards their customers, he observed. Even with investment products that are not federally insured, banks want to deal with the highest-rated insurers to make sure that the insurance companies will be able to keep their promises to the bank customers, he said.
Terry Freeman, a managing consultant with Tillinghast Towers-Perrin in Atlanta, said being part of a large family of products could help Keyport sell through more banks.
Over the years banks have moved away from having a lot of different providers, because of the complexities of evaluating and managing them, he said. To the extent that they can get best-of-breed products priced appropriately and with the right commissions within the same family of companies, they will.
However, he said, banks will not automatically take on a subpar partner just because they offer the products of a sister company; all the products must be equally strong.
Furthermore, Mr. Freeman said, a downside for Sun and Keyport is that banks sometimes demand a higher commission for selling many products from one company.