New leadership won’t change Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co.’s strategy for how it expects to grow its business, but analysts said that changing attitudes about insurance products might.
“We are in a fortunate position because our strategy for 2010 is the same as it was in 2009 and the same as it was in 2008,” Roger W. Crandall, who took the helm as the Springfield, Mass., company’s chief executive officer at the beginning of this month, said in an interview last week. “We have had the same strategy dating back to 2005 when I became CIO. As a mutual life insurance company we are in a position where we don’t have to change our strategy and react to what happened in the previous quarter. We can look for the simpler things … because we work for our policyholders not for stockholders.”
MassMutual reported record sales of its life insurance products last year. According to Limra’s data, MassMutual’s revenue from life insurance sales rose 8% to $200 million, making it the third largest underwriter of whole life policies, trailing only Northwestern Mutual and New York Life Insurance Co.
At a time when the industry increased sales only 1% annually, MassMutual has increased its life insurance sales 14% annually over the past five years, according to Limra.
“We have always taken pride in focusing on the basics,” Crandall said. “We believe that good underwriting and good investment results will allow us to pay the best dividends [to our policyholders] over time.”
MassMutual plans to continue to add to its roster of insurance agents, which has increased 35.1% to 5,000 over the past five years. Crandall, who has worked at the company since 1988, said that life insurance remains a product “that needs to be explained and sold.”
“Our investment in our agent force is paying off,” he said. “We are going to continue to add agents. This is an excellent environment. Recruiting has increased and we are focused on adding more multi-cultural and female agents.”
Currently, 25% of MassMutual’s agents are women, Crandall said.
“We are big fans of demographics,” he said. “We look at where and how wealth is being creating and by 2040 or 2050 we are going to be a majority minority country. The business leaders of the future are people of color and women and we want to be in a position to manage their wealthy.”
Analysts said that the life insurance market is rapidly evolving and companies like MassMutual and New York Life, which both generate the majority of their sales through agents, will be forced to change.
Kenneth Kehrer of Kehrer-Limra said that the number of life insurance agents is shrinking and the ones that exist are getting older. The solution: find alternative distribution channels to sell life insurance, which is what other companies have done by selling through banks, stock brokerage firms, on the internet, and through worksite marketing.
Crandall, who retained his position as chief operating officer after replacing Stuart H. Reese, said MassMutual is examining other channels and is considering introducing new products. He said the retirement services business generated “record” sales last year, up 25% to $4.8 billion from a year earlier.
And, after stopping the sale of several variable annuities last year, he said the company “will take a look at how we can offer new riders” this year “that can be offered to consumers at a reasonable price.”
MassMutual had $415 billion in assets under management as of Dec. 31. Crandall said he expects growth overall from revenue and earnings this year. “We have good momentum in all of our businesses,” he said.
Crandall said MassMutual has “record pipelines and excellent visibility” in the request for proposal market for defined benefits and defined contributions plans markets. In addition, assets under management jumped in January as insurance sales continued its strong pace from December.
“We had a great end of 2008 and improved on that 2009,” he said. “We have the momentum to continuing to grow this year.”