After flat results in 2003, there are signs that the good times might be rolling again.

Transfers to separate accounts grew a handsome 19% for the top 50 life insurers, according to data provided from the NAIC annual database as compiled by National Underwriter Insurance Data Services/Highline Data.

Total transfers to separate accounts reached $161.8 billion in 2004 compared with $135.6 billion in 2003. The total in 2003 was little changed from 2002′s $134.9 billion.

Both 2003 and 2004 saw improvements in the stock market which could have affected transfers to separate accounts, explains Julie Burke, a managing director with Fitch Ratings, Chicago. The improvements in the market compare with 2001 and 2002, which were not good years, she adds.

In 2004, 23 of the top 50 witnessed a 20%+ increase in transfers to separate accounts, while 6 companies experienced a 10%-20% increase and 8 companies, an increase of 0-9%. Thirteen companies posted a decline in 2004 over 2003.

In 2003, 16 had a 20%+ increase; 1 company, a 10%-20% increase; and 8 companies, an increase of 0-9%. Twenty-five companies experienced a decline in 2003 over 2002.

Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America, Minneapolis, was among the companies posting large year-over-year increases in both 2004 and 2003. Respective increases for those years were 77% and 87%.

Starting in 1999, Allianz Life refocused its efforts on the variable life business, says Ed Oberholtzer, an Allianz Life senior vice president and national sales manager.

In 2002, he says, the company had sales that consisted of approximately $1.15 billion in separate accounts and $645 million in fixed accounts. In 2003, separate accounts totaled $2.15 billion of a $2.5 billion total, and in 2004, $3.8 billion of a $4.05 billion total, Oberholtzer says.

In general, the variable annuity business is highly influenced by investor emotion that is tied to the stock markets, he adds. “Investor sentiment is a very real thing.”

Another factor, Oberholtzer says, that affects sales is a company’s ability to provide service. “Service is huge,” he says.

American Enterprise Life Ins. Co., a unit of American Express, Minneapolis, posted $624.1 million in transfers to separate accounts in 2004, a 210% increase over $210.5 million calculated in 2003. That total was 59% over American Enterprise Life’s 2002 total of $126.6 million.

There is a focus on growing sales from outside sources and the company is working with third-party brokers to sell its variable annuities, according to Susan Austin, a company spokesperson. The growth in separate account transfers suggests a greater attraction in the variable side of the business, Austin continues.

The 25% increase in separate accounts at Prudential Insurance Co. of America, Newark, N.J., was the result of a higher level of institutional investments as well as a better market in late 2003 and 2004, says a Prudential spokesperson. In 2004, transfers to separate accounts grew to $7.05 billion up from $5.66 billion in 2003.

But the 2003 total was down 21% over 2002′s $7.19 billion. Although it is hard to forecast how clients react to markets, some clients may have kept money in a money market option and then moved it into separate account funds as the market rebounded, the spokesperson adds.

23 of the top 50 companies experienced a 20%+ growth in transfers to separate accounts in 2004