Securities analysts and credit rating analysts have been looking at plans by AXA S.A. to sell a stake in its U.S. life insurance and asset-management operations through an initial public stock offering with wary, Great Recession-scarred eyes.
Executives at many financial services companies now seem to be so alarmed by low interest rates, populism and U.S. regulatory oscillation that they like the idea of selling dental insurance in Jakarta or Dubai more than selling retirement savings products in Omaha.
It’s all enough to wreck even the hardiest financial professional’s efforts to be a nondisruptable advisor. Some life agents and financial advisors may read the headlines about the proposed AXA U.S. business initial public offering may feel like lying down and curling up with a nondisruptable stuffed animal.
Warren Buffett, on the other hand, has urged people who want to be like him to be greedy when others are fearful.
What is the case for being greedy about AXA’s proposed U.S. IPO?
Here are some ideas about how the IPO might affect financial professionals.
1. Sellers of AXA Financial products will have to put up with rating agency chatter.
Fitch Ratings, for example, has already lowered the insurer financial strength ratings it has assigned to AXA’s U.S. insurance operating subsidiaries to A plus, or strong, from AA minus, or very strong.
Moody’s Investors Service has lowered the insurance financial strength ratings it has assigned AXA Equitable Life Insurance Co. to A1, from Aa3, while affirming some other units’ ratings.
The rating analysts say they are lowering the U.S. subsidiaries’ ratings because they see the subsidiaries as no longer being core operations for the parent company.
Moody’s analysts say they have a negative outlook on the life subsidiaries.
In addition to the change in parent company support, the change in outlook reflects “challenges the company may face during the transition period to its increased independence,” the analysts say.
Obviously, those rating moves sting.
The life subsidiaries still have solid ratings, but not quite the same ratings.
2. Competitors might say mean things about AXA Financial.
In a perfect world, sales representatives and others would speak no evil when asked about competitors going through realignments.
In this world, executives from Humana Inc. acknowledged during a recent conference call with securities analysts that competitors said mean, untrue things about its Medicare plans while it was trying to be acquired by Aetna Inc.
Competitors’ representatives could whisper similar mean things about the AXA U.S. life companies before and immediately after an IPO.
3. AXA Financial might be nicer to you.
Managers in AXA’s U.S. businesses may have to devote some of their energy to organizing and explaining the IPO, but they will also recognize that they have to work harder to shore up all of their relationships, including their relationships with financial professionals.
That principle held for Humana. Humana executives made a point of saying they are going out to meet with brokers, to make sure brokers know how things really are.
Managers at AXA’s U.S. operations will have a similar imperative to knit their financial professional family closer together.
4. The newly independent U.S. company may try harder to promote itself to your prospects.
Look at another company going through a realignment: MetLife Inc. and its likely-to-be-spun-off-soon Brighthouse Financial unit.
Brighthouse Financial is now advertising so heavily that many toddlers who have no idea what a dollar is probably recognize the Brighthouse Financial logo. It’s promoting the concept of building a path to financial security so heavily that it’s boosting any reputable company that’s involved with promoting financial security.
A partial AXA U.S. business spinoff could lead to a similar outpouring of marketing energy.
Analysts at Moody’s are worrying about the U.S. operations’ potential loss of access to the AXA brand name, but, of course, AXA Equitable Life is really the old Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States. In 1915, when Equitable Life turned on the lights at its famous former headquarters building at 120 Broadway in New York, it was probably about as well-known as New York. A campaign to bring back the Equitable Life brand name could tap Equitable Life’s rich history.
5. The AXA U.S. operations could take off like a rocket.
Executives and analysts are nervous about retirement savings operations because long-term retirement savings operations tend to be sensitive to low interest rates.
The day when every sensible human being in a suit is frightened about businesses getting involved with interest rates might be the perfect time to get involved with interest rates. They’ve gone up before; chances are they’ll eventually go up again. Maybe today’s equivalent of a solid but shabby, smelly house in a neighborhood full of tattoo parlors that’s about to turn is a company that can benefit from rising interest rates.
— Read Brighthouse Financial Unveils First Major TV Commercials on ThinkAdvisor.