Insurance companies selling off broker/dealers has been a growing trend that is likely to accelerate into 2010. In 2000, for instance, Fortis sold off its U.S. financial products and broker/dealer units to focus on the bank channel in Europe, where a better return was expected. A couple of years later, W.S. Griffith was sold by Phoenix Life, and we recently saw Pacific Life sell off three broker/dealers to LPL.
Why? Let's face it, many insurance-owned broker/dealers lose money even in favorable markets. Insurance companies tolerated losses from their B/D arms if the firms' reps bought sizable amounts of proprietary products. But it's getting increasingly difficult to get reps to sell mostly proprietary products. Regulators are understandably fixated on the best product and cost for clients, which butts heads with broker/dealers offering 100% payouts on proprietary products or any other form of favoritism that rewards reps for promoting an insurance company's products. Some would also argue that insurers have a history of buying businesses outside their core, and then divesting after 10 to 12 years. Since many insurance companies acquired broker/dealers during the 1980s and 1990s, that means there's a lot of divesting ahead of us. With greater regulation, higher compliance expenses and liability, and leaner profit margins, it only makes sense that even more insurance broker/dealers will be up for sale going forward.