“Organic growth and putting capital to work at attractive returns is harder and harder,” Fels said Monday at a conference held by the American Council of Life Insurers in Washington. “I think it’s forced everybody to look at M&A differently, including mutuals.”
Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co., Pacific Life Insurance Co. and TIAA are among companies that have been pursuing deals to diversify operations and gain market share from publicly traded rivals, which tend to have lower credit ratings. MassMutual’s OppenheimerFunds struck a deal in 2015 to purchase VTL Associates LLC, pushing into smart-beta exchange-traded funds. And the insurer’s Cornerstone Real Estate Advisers announced an agreement this year to buy ACRE Capital Holdings LLC in a bet on multifamily loans.
TIAA Chief Executive Officer Roger Ferguson, the former Federal Reserve vice chairman, announced a deal this year to buy EverBank Financial Corp. to add online banking capabilities to a company better known as the provider of retirement products and insurance to teachers. TIAA agreed in 2014 to buy Nuveen Investments for more than $6 billion to expand in mutual funds.
“Look at what TIAA has done,” Fels said. “Look at what MassMutual’s doing in its asset-management business.”
The acquisitions contrast with the approach of publicly traded rivals such as American International Group Inc., Genworth Financial Inc. and Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., which have been selling assets to narrow their focus or raise capital. Genworth completed the sale in June to PacLife of a new business platform for life insurance.
David Schieldrop, a banker at Barclays Plc, said at the same conference that he expects an increase in deals through December, with a focus on the sale of blocks of policies.
“This has been a slow year when you think about true life insurance transactions of meaningful size,” he said. “I think we will see more announcements between now and the end of the year. It remains reasonably active.”
Interest from China
One of the larger announced deals in recent years, the 2015 agreement by China’s Anbang Insurance Group Co. to acquire Des Moines, Iowa-based Fidelity & Guaranty Life, has hit a roadblock as the would-be buyer withdrew an application in New York. Anbang has renewed discussions with regulators to win approval for the $1.6 billion deal, people with knowledge of the talks said in September.
“I don’t think a month goes by where we don’t get an inbound call from somebody out in China who has an interest in getting into the U.S. insurance industry,” Goldman Sachs’s Fels said. “They’re pretty inexperienced in the world of how insurance works and M&A works in the U.S. They’re going to figure it out.”