The plan by New York Life Insurance Co.'s investment management arm to change a subsidiary's name has some industry observers speculating the subsidiary could be for sale.
New York Life Investment Management announced last week that its equity investors group will be renamed Madison Square Investors on Jan. 1.
Russ Prince, the president of Prince & Associates Inc., a consulting firm in Redding, Conn., said that in the current climate, everybody could be available for the right price.
"Let's get serious, the money management business is shot to hell," he said. "They may not be on the market today, but that doesn't mean they couldn't be. People are pitching and looking all over the place. If the right numbers come along, they would do it."
Tony Elavia, the chief investment officer of New York Life Investment Management's equity investors group, who would become the chief executive officer and chief investment officer of Madison Square Investors next year, denied that the name is being changed with an eye toward selling the unit.
"We're not doing this to lead to a cleaner dismantling," he said. "That's not part of our strategy...I've never thought of ourselves as being up for sale."
Mr. Prince said that companies like New York Life can try to maintain a certain business model, but the captive system is shot. The issue companies face is how to sell firms, he said, and it is easier to sell them in pieces.
Mr. Elavia said the name is being changed to make the subsidiary more distinct and for branding purposes.
Eventually, New York Life Investment Management plans to set up a phantom equity stake arrangement for Madison Square's portfolio managers, he said, and its long-term incentive plan could be tied to its performance. "That way people feel like they are part of the smaller group, and their fortune is linked to that."
The name change also will help with recruiting and will make it easier for the subsidiary to do business with large institutional investors, Mr. Elavia said.
Brian Hamburger, the founder of MarketCounsel LLC, an Englewood, N.J., firm that serves registered investment advisers, said that employee retention might be New York Life Investment Management's goal, and that, marketing aside, its parent should not be compared with smaller firms.
"New York Life is quite far outside the independent space, and while they use words such as 'independent' and 'boutique', they are far from either," he said.
New York Life Investment Management's other businesses are MacKay Shields LLC in New York, Institutional Capital LLC in Chicago, and McMorgan & Co. LLC in San Francisco.
Institutional investors want to do business with investment management firms that are compact and focused on what they do well, Mr. Elavia said. "Our goal is not to do everything under the sun."
During the past three years, he said, New York Life has added several 130-30 and absolute return strategies; those equity and balanced products will continue to be extended to retail investors through MainStay Funds and MainStay Managed Accounts.
Peter Delano, research area director of securities and investment for TowerGroup, a Needham, Mass., independent research firm owned by MasterCard Inc., said moves such as this are surprising in the current economic environment, because they do not let companies take advantage of economies of scale.
However, institutional investors are typically most interested in whether money managers are meeting expectations, Mr. Delano said. "If those are seamless, and it's just a new letterhead and a new logo, institutional investors won't have a problem."