State Farm Insurance Cos. expansion outside its core business is crossing over to wealth management services, a move observers are calling daring.
Its pilot test with a wealth management company, Phoenix Home Life Insurance Co. of Hartford, Conn., will have State Farm agents offering their clients Phoenix services including charitable giving; business life insurance; and executive benefit, retirement, and estate planning.
We insure 1.8 million households that we consider prime candidates for wealth management services, State Farm spokeswoman Kris Dunn said.
The Bloomington, Ill., company announced the Phoenix Home Life program, which is slated to begin in July, on March 30. This followed its establishment in February of a loan processing center, and State Farm is training 16,000 agents nationwide to sell traditional banking products.
In the Phoenix Home Life alliance, State Farm will target the mass affluent those with assets of at least $1 million, not counting their primary home.
Our agents know their clients assets, houses, and cars. They can offer investment guidance, Ms. Dunn said. This is another piece of the puzzle. We want our customers to get everything they need from us.
Carmen Effron, president of C.F. Effron Co., a bank insurance consulting firm in Westport, Conn., called State Farms move into wealth management bold and smart.
The more you tie in a customer with products, the better your chance of holding on to them. State Farm realizes that, she said. Theyre making a play in a very difficult but profitable business.
She pointed out that it is unusual for a property/casualty insurer to enter the wealth management business. And it should alarm banks, she said, because the company is going into one of the most profitable parts of a banks business.
However, selling wealth management products will not be easy for State Farm, Ms. Effron said. Banks will still have an advantage, because bank relationship managers focus all their energies on estate or charitable planning, whereas an agent has a wider range of activities to deal with.
State Farm is also putting itself in direct competition with life insurance agents, said Kenneth Kehrer, president of the consulting firm Kenneth Kehrer Associates in Princeton, N.J.
I think banks are trying to get to the same place State Farm and securities firms are trying to get to, Mr. Kehrer said.
Laura Deame, a spokeswoman for Phoenix Home Life, said that it is open to sales agreements with other traditional property/casualty companies as long as they have agents.
Its something wed absolutely consider, because it gives us the opportunity to broaden our distribution network, Ms. Deame said.
Ms. Effron pointed out that wealth management is not a basic product its a confusing and detailed set of products, and banks have been doing this forever.
It might come down to how much support Phoenix is going to give, she said. Though the State Farm agents will control and manage the relationships, Ms. Effron said, they are going to want to slit their wrists if they do not get the help they need from Phoenix.
All of Phoenix Home Lifes internal and external wholesalers, which total more than 100, are available to State Farm agents, Ms. Deame said. And if service needs are high, a support-staff member from the wealth management company will get on the phone or visit a client at the agents office.
Colin Devine, an equity analyst at Salomon Smith Barney in New York, said it will be years before State Farm produces meaningful sales in wealth management.
Id think it will be a long time before someone with substantial assets sees a State Farm agent as credible, he said. Most people still look at State Farm agents as auto insurance guys, and the fact the agents are getting series six licenses wont change that.