The Hartford announced that it is placing its individual annuity business into runoff. The insurer will stop new annuity sales effective April 27 and expects to take a related after-tax charge of $15 million to $20 million in the second quarter of 2012.

The insurer is also pursuing the sale or "other strategic alternatives" of its individual life, its broker-dealer Woodbury Financial Services and its retirement plans businesses, and has engaged financial advisers to assist in this process.

During this period, the company will continue to write new business. Proceeds from any transactions will give The Hartford additional financial flexibility, providing opportunities to deleverage, derisk the legacy annuity blocks, invest in the business and potentially take other capital management actions.

Some industry experts expected this activity after hedge fund manager John Paulson publicly demanded in February that the insurer break itself into two companies. On a February 8 conference call with analysts, Paulson angrily insisted the company needed to take "drastic" action after management said a breakup into two companies faced too many challenges to work.

The insurer did not reference Paulson in today’s announcement but said the changes are a result of “management and the Board of Directors' rigorous evaluation of the company's strategy and business portfolio conducted over the past several quarters and concluded this week.”

The Wall Street Journal quoted Chief Executive Liam McGee as stating that the move will allow Hartford to focus on its property-casualty unit, where the company got its start more than 200 years ago, as well as its group benefits business and its "high return" mutual fund operation.

"The Hartford's sharper focus will lead to an organization that, over time, will be positioned for higher returns on equity, reduced sensitivity to capital markets, a lower cost of capital and increased financial flexibility," said McGee. "With this portfolio and the actions we are taking, we are on the right path to unlock value and deliver superior, long-term returns for shareholders."

The Hartford EVP and CFO Christopher Swift also commented, "The actions announced today will allow us to build on our strong financial foundation by concentrating our resources on a smaller number of businesses to position The Hartford for long-term success,” he said. “Individual life, Woodbury Financial Services and retirement plans are strong businesses with distinct market positions and talented employees, but they do not align with our go-forward focus. They will be better positioned for success as part of other organizations."

Carrie Burns writes for Insurance Networking News.