In 2006, 22 executives at the top 16 insurers that sell life insurance pulled in total compensation of over $261 million, according to regulatory filings. [The companies were ranked according to their admitted assets for the year 2006. The reason for 16 insurers is that one company, Hartford, has 2 units in the top 15.]

The executive with the highest 2006 total compensation of the 22 executives included in this listing was Arthur Ryan, chairman and CEO of Prudential Financial, who received a package of $25,750,135. At the other end of the spectrum, Pacific Life’s James Morris who was COO in 2006 and became president and CEO in April 2007 received total compensation of $3,577,602.

Mark Watson, managing director, corporate governance at Moody’s Investor Services, said these compensation packages were “not extraordinary.” Referring to Pru’s Ryan, Watson said that Pru is one of the top 100 companies in the United States and $25 million “is not going to get you near the top of that list.”

An “outlying number” in this life executive group, Watson said, would be “40 or plus million.”

Additionally, he noted that the average compensation of CEOs in the S&P 500 is in the range of “11 to 12 million dollars.”

In Ryan’s case, Watson said, tenure plays into his compensation since “Ryan is a 13-year CEO.”

Further, Ryan was brought in from outside the life business, Watson continued, and this is something that characterizes the top tier of many of the largest life insurance companies. “Life insurance brings in talent from outside the business,” Watson said, “and you have to pay salaries commensurate with where they came from.”

You don’t see this in other financial services industries, such as securities or banking, he noted.

So, if a company is going to bring in someone from outside the business, “it will have to pay top dollar for talent,” Watson said.

Approximately $17 million of the $261 million in total compensation of these executives, or about 6.5%, was in actual salary. Edward Liddy, chairman and CEO of Allstate Corp., Northbrook, Ill., was paid the highest salary, at $1,211,545, while the lowest was paid to W.G. Jurgensen, CEO of Nationwide Financial, Columbus, Ohio, who received $244,105. The average salary for executives of these companies was $888,885 in 2006, while the median salary was $990,000.

By far, the bulk of total compensation was accounted for by bonuses, stock awards and non-equity compensation plans.

Bonuses totaled $35,933,205, or 13.5% of total compensation received by this group of executives. But the use of bonuses appeared in the packages of only 9 of the 22 executives listed. The largest 2006 bonus, $10,125,000, was received by Martin Sullivan, president and CEO of AIG, New York.

Stock awards for these executives totaled $46,154,479, or 17.6% of these executives’ total packages. The largest stock award was given to Prudential’s Ryan, with a total of $9,435,896, and the smallest, $617,687, to Jon Boscia, chairman and CEO of Lincoln Financial, Philadelphia.

The average stock awards made totaled $3,846,207 and the median award was $3,637,375, the halfway point between the $3,545,455 awarded to Dominic D’Alessandro, president and CEO of Manulife Finanical, Toronto; and the $3,729,295 awarded to Edmund Tse, AIG’s senior vice chairman-life insurance.

Option awards totaled $41,121,782, 15.8% of total compensation these executives received. The biggest option award in 2006 among these executives went to Allstate’s Liddy, with a total of $7,224,274, while the smallest option award went to Nationwide’s Thresher, at $414,207. The average for these executives was $3,163,214, while the median was $3,318,289.

Non-equity incentive plans also accounted for a sizable portion of the total compensation of these top executives. In 2006, non-equity incentive plans represented $43,537,010 in compensation, 16.7% of total compensation. Lincoln Financial’s Boscia bagged the biggest non-equity incentive plan, with a total of $7,393,423, while Nationwide’s Thresher posted $2,038,208.

The average for this category totaled $3,957,910, while the median was $3,650,000.

Under the category of change in pension value and non-qualified compensation, the $27,970,618 total represented 10.7% of total compensation to this group of executives. C. Robert Henrikson, MetLife Inc.’s CEO, ranked highest in this category, with $7,248,554 received from the New York insurer. Nationwide’s Jurgensen received $193,753 of compensation in this category. The average for this category was $2,330,885 and the median was $1,936,853, the halfway point between the $1,733,536 received by Barry Griswell, chairman and CEO of Principal Financial, and the $2,140,170 received by Lincoln Financial’s Boscia.

In the category of all other compensation, the executives for these top companies earned $10,200,007, 3.9% of total compensation. The highest compensated in this category was Thomas Sutton, who was chairman and CEO in 2006. Sutton retired on April 2, 2007, and was succeeded as CEO by James Morris. Sutton received $5,619,504.

On the other end of this category, Thomas Marra, an executive vice president with The Hartford and president and COO of Hartford Life, received other compensation of $44,367.

The average for the ‘other compensation’ category was $680,000 and the median total was $193,060.

Other categories of compensation represented the following percentages of these executives’ total compensation: variable compensation, 3.2%; directors fees and benefits in-kind, 0%; pension service cost, 1%; and remainder, 10.8%.

The remainder category consists of compensation for 3 CEOs of major mutual life insurers. The 3 executives are: MassMutual’s Reese; Seymour Sternberg, chairman and CEO with New York Life Insurance Company; and Northwestern Mutual’s Zore.

Available information for these companies included totals for these executives but did not break out compensation by the categories listed in the chart that accompanies this story.