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Hartford CEO Discusses Strategy

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Declaring that the company has learned its lesson from the economic crisis, Hartford Financial Services Group Inc.’s chief executive outlined a new company strategy for growth during its investor meeting yesterday in New York.

The meeting, broadcast live online, featured the company’s chairman, president and chief executive officer, Liam E. McGee, describing a corporate structure that will concentrate its sales efforts in 3 distinct areas and pay close attention to enterprise risk management.

“We learned our lesson from the last 2 years,” McGee told investors as he outlined a multi-tiered management and committee structure charged with identifying and evaluating the company’s risks.

The enterprise risk management approach will consist of an independent chief risk officer reporting to the CEO, a risk committee of the board of directors and an executive risk committee chaired by the CEO.

The insurer just completed repaying $3.4 billion it borrowed from the U.S. Treasury under the Treasury’s Troubled Asset Relief Program after its life operations suffered severe investment losses and the need to deliver on guaranteed returns for variable annuities.

He said after “a comprehensive review” of the company and a capital raise of close to $3 billion, the company now “has a balance sheet that can sustain any reasonable stress scenario, including severe market and credit stresses.”

Under stress scenarios the company outlined, a worst case depletion of capital in 2010-2011 would still leave the company with $1.9 billion in capital, the Hartford said.

McGee said the company will refocus around its strong brand and concentrate its efforts in 3 groups:

–Commercial markets: providing risk protection, specialty property and casualty, and group benefits, with a growth focus on small and mid-sized businesses. This will be led by Juan Andrade as president of commercial markets.

–Wealth management: providing products and services for the retirement savings, income and estate-planning needs of consumers and small business owners. With the over-65 population expected to increase in years to come, the company said there are significant opportunities in this area for growth. This segment will he headed by John Walters as president of Wealth Management.

–Consumer markets: Hartford plans to grow its AARP auto and homeowners insurance program through independent agents and direct distribution. The company is conducting a search for an executive to head this division.

In a separate interview, McGee said that the company has opportunities to update and streamline its technology “and one of the motivating factors will be to make it easier to do business with us.”

The company has done a good job of patchwork to its systems, “but we want to be a more contemporary company around technology,” he explained.

When asked how this new alignment would affect producers, McGee said a clear message coming out of the day is that “our relationship with independent agents has always been one of the most important things at the Hartford; it is more important today and tomorrow than it was yesterday.”

He said agents should be heartened by the realignment, because while they will be doing business with the same company representatives they have in the past, they will have greater coordination to accessing products to fill their clients’ needs.

“I think this is very much influenced by our desire to do a better job and make it easier for our agents to do business with us,” he observed.


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