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Rising Interest Rates Could Help Me: Nationwide Annuity Exec

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Eric Henderson, the president of Nationwide’s annuity unit, is one of the people in charge of private-sector efforts to help people save for their own retirement.

He oversees a business that manages about $100 billion in annuity assets for hundreds of thousands of retail annuity holders.

Henderson is a fellow of the Society of Actuaries, with both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in math from The Ohio State University.

He serves on the board of the Insured Retirement Institute.

He started out at Nationwide as an actuarial assistant in 1985. Since then, he has held many different positions at the company, including senior vice president of the individual investments group and chief financial officer of the individual investments group.

Via email, we asked Henderson a set of questions that touch on both his professional life and on what he does off the clock.

1. What market indicator, industry statistic, regulatory change or advisor trend are you watching most closely right now and why?

The annuity business is heavily impacted by the movement of interest rates, so I’ve always got an eye on what’s happening in that space. Low interest rates over the past few years have made it challenging to design or tweak certain products to ensure they provide the right level of value for our customers.

Some people view rising interest rates as a negative — but today’s rising rate environment will present opportunities for us to offer annuity products that provide even greater value for those seeking to protect their portfolio and plan for income in retirement.

2. How has it been changing recently (2021), and how do you expect it to change (2022)?

Anybody who tries to guess what interest rates will do in the future is typically wrong. Current signs point to continued upward movement due to a strengthening economy and inflationary pressures.

3. What would you suggest advisors do now or consider doing in the future about it?

Since the future of interest rates and the investment markets in general are so hard to predict, I think it’s important to folks to continue to invest throughout the market cycle. Anyone who sat on the sidelines in 2008 wondering if things were going to turn around missed out on a once-in-a-lifetime buying opportunity. Historically, those who continue to invest throughout the market cycle have come out with stronger portfolios in the long run.

4. Who or what critical source of information do you track, or follow online, to keep up with this or other trends?

In addition to interest rate, I keep a close eye on the movement of equity markets, credit spreads and various economic indicators, including consumer sentiment. These measures offer clues to where we’re headed and inform the way we think about making sure our portfolio of annuity products will be ready to meet the evolving needs of our customers.

5. Are you changing any of your work habits at this stage of the pandemic? Why/why not?

At Nationwide we’re working in a hybrid model — splitting time between working from home and the office. We’re fortunate to have technology that enables us to do both and still provide a great experience for our members and partners.

In fact, Nationwide is on track for one of the strongest years in the history of our company despite a change that would have been hard to imagine a couple of years ago.

The one thing that you have to be conscious of is the importance of connecting in person with colleagues when you have the chance. Sometimes in-person “hallway” interactions can lead to the most productive conversations you have all day, so you have to be intentional about connecting in person over time.

6. What’s your biggest hobby, and what was the last event/activity you did related to it?

A few years ago, I planted 30 fruit trees at my home, including peach, apple and cherry. Recently I had a lot of fun with my family harvesting peaches to make some delicious Southern peach cobbler.

7. How about your latest community/charitable activity/event/cause?

I serve on the board of directors for BalletMet here in Columbus, Ohio, where Nationwide is located. I was attracted to the opportunity when my daughter took an interest in dancing, and have really developed a passion for ensuring we have world-class ballet in Columbus.

Of course, the pandemic has made it hard to fill theaters with people, so we’ve had to get creative in finding ways to keep things going, pivoting to virtual and outdoor performances. I’m very excited that we’ll be able to get folks back into the theater for our production of The Nutcracker this holiday season!

8. What book are you reading now and why?

Recently I earned my master’s degree in divinity — a subject I’ve always had a passion for. When I retire from Nationwide, I plan to pursue a Ph.D. in theology and apologetics. To get a jump on that long-term goal, I’m spending a lot of my free time learning to read biblical Greek and Hebrew. It might sound a bit dry — but that’s what’s on my nightstand right now, and I’ve found it to be pretty stimulating.

9. Any special holiday plan, activity or focus you’d like to share as we near year-end? Or a New Year’s resolution that you’ve decided on?

I’m looking forward to getting together with my family for some quality time. It was harder to do that last year, but we hope to have more “normal” holiday interactions this year.

10. Any other update/fact about you or piece of advice/wisdom you’d like to share with our advisor audience?

My mantra in life is “Think beyond the possible.” I believe that you need to set goals that appear to be beyond what you may think are achievable — then try to figure out how to get there. Often you can surprise yourself by doing what you may have initially thought was impossible. Even if you fall short, this type of thinking tends to lead to better outcomes than you would have achieved if you started with a more “realistic” goal.

Eric Henderson (Photo: Nationwide)