Michael Wells, the newly appointed president and chief executive officer at Jackson National Life Insurance Co., knows what it is like to be a financial advisor dealing with variable annuities.

He started his career as a financial advisor, at the old Dean Witter, and over the years has learned how important it is for independent advisors to sell products that they feel are the best ones for their clients.

He joined the Lansing, Mich.-based insurer 15 years ago to act as president of Jackson National Life Distributors, its variable annuity business, where he played an integral role in developing its first variable annuity and fixed index annuity products.

Now that the frost is melting around perceptions of variable annuities, Wells aims to maintain Jackson National’s strong position in the annuities business, while letting the 3,455 advisors affiliated with its independent broker dealer network continue to serve their clients with the freedom to choose products. “I’m hypersensitive to the needs of the advisor and what we have to bring here,” Wells said during an interview Thursday. 

Jackson National has $94 billion in assets, but Wells said it does not take that position for granted. Nor it is a slam-dunk to book sales of variable annuities, or other insurance products, through National Planning Holdings, its Santa Monica, Calif.-based independent broker-dealer group. “We have to work much harder to earn a sale in our own broker dealer,” Wells said. “Those advisors don’t want to be seen as not offering the best product.”

National Planning Holdings placed number 14 on Financial Planning magazine’s annual ranking of the 50 largest independent broker-dealer, and operates through four separate companies. They are: INVEST Financial Corp.; Investment Centers of America, Inc.; National Planning Corp.; and SII Investments, Inc.

In August, National Planning Holdings said it booked revenue of more than $342 million in the first half of 2010, a 20.4% increase over the first half of 2009. But it is not resting on its laurels. In July, it moved to capture more fee-based business by launching WealthOne, a web-based advisory platform that offers a wide array of investment  strategies and products from top money managers.

Wells said that he sees a big future for Jackson National, particularly one based on its current business model, which underlines independence for its affiliated advisors. He hopes the advisors see it that way, too. “The role of the broker-dealers has never been to sell our brand,” Wells said. “There are no special incentives or trips based on selling Jackson products, or enhanced commissions. There is nothing that would present a conflict of interest or independence. It means you let them grow their business as they see fit.”  

Wells will step into his new role at the end of the year, succeeding Clark Manning. Jackson National is part of U.K.-based Prudential plc. Manning will serve as chairman of Prudential plc’s U.S. operations until April 30.

* * *

Also on the move this week:

The American Council of Life Insurers has named David N. Levenson, president of Hartford Financial’s wealth management business, to its board of directors. There, he will serve through 2012. He joined Hartford in 1995 and started its retail mutual fund business. In 2000, he assumed responsibility for the company's 401(k) segment. In 2002, he assumed responsibility for all retail investment products and went on to become a Managing Director at Hartford Investment Management Co.

Transamerica Retirement Services, based in Los Angeles, named David Ravarino a regional vice president in its western region. He will be responsible for all sales activities and distribution in California’s Central Valley, including Sacramento. Ravarino was a regional sales director for Hartford Retirement Plan Services.

Vista Capital Partners, based in Portland, Ore., hired John Convery as its chief operating officer. He joins from Providence Health & Services, where he managed the revenue cycle operations and acquisition integration for the Oregon region.

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