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Unum President Says Company Can Stand On Its Own

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Bonita Springs, Fla.

No public company can dismiss the idea of being acquired out of hand, but Unum President Thomas Watjen says his company is doing well enough to have a choice about its fate.

“We control our own destiny,” Watjen said here at the annual disability conference organized by JHA, Portland, Maine.

Watjen, who was an investment banker when he went to work for a Unum predecessor company in 1994, took over Unum in 2003, at a time when lawsuits and regulatory actions had sent Unum reeling.

Back in 2003, Watjen told JHA attendees, the top priorities for Unum were overhauling operations, restoring financial strength, and dealing with the lawsuits and investigations.

“We did have a little mountain of regulatory issues to work through,” Watjen recalled.

Since 2003, Unum capital levels have improved dramatically, persistency levels have increased, and sales have started to grow again, despite the company’s emphasis on “disciplined pricing” and a focus on employers with 2,000 and fewer covered lives, Watjen said.

Now, Watjen said, Unum is continuing to work on resolving regulatory issues, but the company also has built up a substantial amount of capital, and it is looking for ways to use that capital in securitization efforts.

One idea is to securitize Unum’s closed block of old individual disability policies, Watjen said.

The company also hopes to improve U.S. group disability sales, and to continue to sell group long term care insurance, Watjen said.

In the future, Watjen said, disability insurers will have to compete less by coming up with new bells and whistles and more by developing broader, simpler products and addressing customers’ needs in a more comprehensive, more “holistic” way.

“I think there are going to be some real winners as this paradigm unfolds over the next three to four years,” Watjen said.

But there also may be increasing pressure on companies that lack the resources to compete, Watjen warned.

“For those that don’t change, this could lead to consolidation opportunities,” Watjen said.

Also at the JHA conference:

- Watjen admitted to having strong emotions about regulators’ dealings with Unum. But concerns about transparency and conflicts of interest now are universal throughout all financial services industries, and they are likely to persist even though John Garamendi is no longer California’s insurance commissioner and Eliot Spitzer is no longer New York’s attorney general, Watjen said.

- Watjen said he would like to see significant streamlining of the insurance regulatory system.

“We still have to work with the states today,” Watjen noted.

But, now that the states are trying to coordinate their regulatory processes while Congress considers setting up some kind of national regulatory system, “it’s almost like a horse race, who’s going to figure it out first,” Watjen said.


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