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Messages From the Equitable Archives

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Life insurers may be heading into a challenging period.

Interest rates are low. Consumers’ ability to plan for the long term may be low. Understanding of just what the “new coronavirus” pneumonia, or Covid-19, might do in the United States is low.

Some established life insurers are sending the message that they’ve been around for a long time, that they got through the 1918 flu pandemic, and the Great Depression, and the Panic of 1873, and that they are prepared for whatever the future holds now.

New York Life Insurance Company, for example, is running a 175th birthday anniversary branding campaign.

Equitable Holdings Inc. — the parent of the life insurer once known as the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States — recently separated from its former parent, AXA S.A., and it’s celebrating its return to independence by bringing back imagery from its past.

(Related: Equitable Gets Its Name Back)

The New York-based company is now using a logo featuring a stylized image of Athena, the greek goddess of wisdom and protection.

Nick Lane, president of Equitable Holdings’ Equitable unit, recently highlighted Equitable’s heritage, and the heritage of the U.S. life insurance industry in general, in another way: by letting a reporter from ThinkAdvisor into the company’s archives.

The company has a framed montage featuring many different images of the company’s founder, Henry Baldwin Hyde, arranged in chronological order.

The company has portraits and memorabilia from many longtime agents and general agents, including Ray Wilner Sundelson, who, in 1896, became the first female Equitable agent to manage her own agency in New York

It has the applications of some of the famous customers of the past, including Thomas Edison and Theodore Roosevelt.

And it has many different kinds of images of Athena, the protector, both in the archives and in the company’s offices. The company began using the image of Athena protecting the widow and the orphan in its logo early on, to send the message that life insurance, too, protects the widow and the orpha.

The company doesn’t have much from the 1918 flu pandemic, partly because, for Equitable, that turned out not to be all that big of a claim event, Lane said.

Equitable does have memorabilia related to another historic event: the company’s decision to waive a war death coverage exclusion for soldiers during World War II. Some questioned that decision, but it had only a moderate effect on claims, Lane said.

In the end, Lane said, he believes the decision about the war exclusion sent an important message: “We take care of our clients.”

For a look at four amazing things in Equitable’s archives, and one amazing thing displayed upstairs in its offices, see the images in the slideshow above. (To make the control arrows show up, wiggle your pointer over the first slide.)

Correction: An account of Thomas Edison’s 1893 life insurance coverage exclusions given in an earlier version of this article described the issuer incorrectly. The issuer was the Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York, a company that was an Equitable affiliate from 2004 through 2013.

— Read 7 Reasons National Underwriter’s New New York Location Blows My Mind, on ThinkAdvisor.

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