AXA Financial Inc., is in the hunt for a life insurance acquisition, the company’s chief financial officer says.

AXA is looking to buy a carrier that can give it enhanced retail distribution in the U.S., according to UBS Investment Research, New York, quoting Stan Tulin, vice chairman and CFO of AXA Financial.

Speaking at a recent financial conference sponsored by UBS, Tulin said his company could complete a significant acquisition in the industry soon.

AXA has almost completely absorbed its most recent acquisition, MONY, which closed last July, Tulin is reported to have said.

Tulin told the conference his company could borrow up to $3 billion without having to raise new equity, according to UBS.

AXA states that independent financial planners represent a major growth opportunity. Its annuity sales to this channel comprise 48% of its wholesale market but account for just 21% of AXA Distributors’ annuity sales, the company says. AXA added 24 wholesalers last year to sell to this channel.

According to UBS analyst Andrew Kligerman, AXA should complete the integration of MONY’s broker-dealer network by June 10.

Kligerman thinks the company could attempt another deal even before then if the opportunity is attractive enough.

He suggests leading acquisition candidates could be Lincoln National, Philadelphia; Nationwide Financial, Columbus, Ohio; or Prudential Financial, Newark, N.J.

But if AXA does bid on another life insurer, it could have competition, UBS analysts suggest. They note that Manulife’s chief executive officer, Dominic D’Alessandro, recently repeated his prior statements that the company is likely to complete a U.S. deal soon.

Manulife’s last big acquisition splash was in 2003, when it bid for John Hancock Financial Services Inc., a deal it closed last year.

AXA Financial, New York, is the U.S. affiliate of AXA S.A., Paris.

‘Independent financial planners represent a major growth opportunity’