Is there any life left in those old (life) blocks?
Last week, the Hartford (USA) announced that it was refocusing its business strategy. The immediate impact of this change was to place its annuity business into runoff, and to initiate a search for a buyer (or strategic alternative if a buyer cannot be found) of its Individual Life, Woodbury Financial Services and Retirement Plans. In addition to this news from the Hartford, earlier this month we also saw the Prudential (USA) announce that it was going to discontinue the sale of individual long term care products.
In mature markets around the world, there appears to be a growing demand to either find new homes or alternative strategies for long-term business that no longer fits with the business strategy of insurers. In Europe, for example, Solvency II and local market reforms (such as the Retail Distribution Review in the UK) are acting as a catalyst for insurers to re-evaluate the economic viability of running these blocks as they reduce in size with age, and also with a view towards releasing capital.
So, if you’re an insurer with large block of non-strategic long-term business, what are your options?
The most obvious option, and preferred by many, is to find a buyer for the block. Although strategically, this can be the cleanest option for the insurer, it comes with two big risks. The first risk is brand reputation. Even though the products within the block may be viewed as non-strategic by the insurer, it is unlikely that the customers holding those products see them that way. Ultimately, these same customers may also be good prospects for other financial products and services. The second risk relates to transition. Ideally, the buyer of the closed block needs to be able to absorb the business into its existing operation without a drop in service quality or benefits to the customer. Typically, this will involve some level of convergence on processes and platforms with other similar blocks – not an easy task, and it is likely that the biggest share of the reputational risk associated with any failure still lies with the insurer who sold the block!
Other options range from financial restructuring through to outsourcing through to internal transformation. No option is straight forward, all involve some level of balancing the cost to serve with the reducing size of book, and all attract risk. Arguably, at the heart of any good strategy for closed blocks, should be an understanding of the value of the end customer holding the product, and how further value can be extracted from the relationship to the benefit of both parties (regardless of who manages / owns the block now).
At Celent, we are researching the options open to insurers for managing closed blocks and also strategies for maximising the value of the customers held within them. If you have an opinion on what the best strategy is for managing these old discontinued blocks of business, then we’d be keen to hear from you.