Hartford Financial Services Co. plans to increase life insurance sales by focusing on developing its presence with independent financial advisors.

Historically, the Hartford, Conn., company has developed the majority of its life insurance business through “mega-banks,” said Brian D. Murphy, an executive vice president in its individual life division, but sales through these companies has declined in the past couple of years.

“In the life insurance space, sales through financial institutions really only account for about 10%,” he said. “The independent space is really the blue ocean. We want to enter that blue ocean.”

On a commissionable weighted premium basis, Hartford's individual life division's sales declined 26.4% to $201 million last year. That said, Murphy believes his new strategy will produce double-digit growth this year and for years to come, and anticipates that Hartford will succeed in its goal of becoming one of the top five individual policy carriers.

“We got double whipped last year,” he said. “The life insurance business was hit hard and the financial institutions suffered. We needed to change our focus.”

Murphy said the company also plans to increase sales through regional banks. To keep up with these initiatives, Hartford plans to increase its wholesaling force 10% to 15% annually over the next three to five years. Currently, it has 200 wholesalers located in 20 offices nationally.

“Most competitors sell their products to independent advisors through third-party aggregators,” he said. “Our strategy now is to take our products directly to advisors. … We don’t want to be commoditized. We think we can stand out by going directly to advisors.”

The new strategy is already paying dividends. Murphy said initially he hoped to sign up 200 advisors by June and 400 by the end of the year, but the company added 140 in January alone.

Analysts said that Hartford will still face competition from life insurance providers that are well-established with independent advisors, including Pacific Life Insurance Co.

Burton Greenwald of BJ Greenwald Associates in Philadelphia said that Hartford has lost traction with larger institutions and is forced to take this route. He said the company could face significant pitfalls with its new strategy, especially as its parent company continues to look to repay Tarp and emerge from government aid.

“Hartford has been going through a very challenging period and has faced a lot of issues surrounding its financial stability,” he said. “A lot of large institutions have questions about Hartford’s long-term stability.”

Murphy said he is confident that Hartford can gain traction with independent advisors. He said it is focused on independent advisors with more than $1 million of life insurance production.

“Independent advisors typically have a much shorter shelf of providers than a large financial institution,” he said. “We are talking about two to three core carriers. If we can get on the shelf, we are confident we can gather significant share of assets.”