Sun Life Financial has been in the U.S. market since 1895, but has taken steps within the past few years to increase its market share in the country in its three main business—group benefits, variable annuities and life insurance. Terry Mullen, president of Sun Life Financial Distributors, noted in an interview in late April that “we have incredible market share” in Canada, where one in six Canadians has some coverage through its parent company, founded in Montreal in 1865.
Sun Life Financial has within the past few years made some high-profile sponsorship deals in some very south-of-the-border areas, most notably a naming rights agreement in 2010 with the Miami Dolphins to rename the Dolphins’ stadium as Sun Life Stadium just in time for the NFL’s Super Bowl and Pro Bowl that year. In January of this year, Sun Life struck a sponsorship deal with the NBA’s Boston Celtics under which it became the official team sponsor and presenting sponsor of Celtics.com. Sun Life Financial is based in the Boston area. It also sponsored the “Sun Life Frozen Fenway” in January with the owners of the Red Sox ball park, where college hockey teams play outdoors at the iconic site.
*The no-lapse-guarantee (5th paragraph) was part of the Life business, not Annuities.
Mullen (left), formerly president and CEO of Lincoln Financial Distributors who joined Sun Life Financial late in 2008, declined to reveal what the costs of those sponsorship deals were, except to say that on the Dolphins’ stadium deal, “we had a really good deal” that has already paid off in brand recognition. As a subsidiary of a Canadian-based firm with strong financials, Sun Life, like many Canadian banks and insurers,weathered the financial crisis in much better shape than its U.S. competitors.
“Advisors,” said Mullen, are “doing more due diligence on products,” not necessarily the companies providing those products, but nevertheless, he says “you don’t want to force advisors to make a second sale—to sell Sun Life” when they’re discussing products with their end clients.
Beyond the sponsorship deals, Mullen said Sun Life’s VA business has “grown very well” in the U.S. “We do an incredible amount of education,” Mullen says, particularly through its 80 wholesalers, noting that many states require carriers to provide extensive education on variable annuities.
In its life insurance business, he pointed out that the company is making good progress on exiting the no-lapse guarantee business, which in 2007 represented 97% of its life business in the U.S., but now accounts for only 32% of its business.
With no captive agents, Sun Life sells its VA and universal life products through wirehouse, regional and bank broker-dealers, along with independent BDs such as Commonwealth Financial and LPL Financial. In February, Sun Life was one of five VA manufacturers named to provide lower-cost variable annuities, with no surrender charges, on the largest BD’s Fee-Based Variable Annuity (FBVA) platform.
That deal, says Mullen, reflects the fact that RIAs are the fastest-growing channel for Sun Life in the U.S.
As for new products, Mullen says Sun Life is about to launch a linked-benefit product called SunCare, for which it has filed and been approved in 38 states. That product, similar, he said, to Lincoln Financial’s MoneyGuard, is a hybrid product that combines long-term care insurance with life insurance.