As life insurance and annuity carriers pursue greater market share and growth, a potential solution sits before them: M&A activity. This transactional path, leading to deep consolidation within the life insurance and annuity (L&A) sector within the U.S., is stoking much debate and discussion in company boardrooms.
The hunt for elusive growth and profitability for carriers within the U.S. has many players, creating a crowded marketplace for possible consolidation. The multi-headed acquirers come in three dominant forms: large insurance companies, private equity (PE) investors and foreign acquirers, driven largely by the Chinese and Japanese.
Insurance carriers intimately know about their competition and what companies within the sector would mesh well inside their operations. Executives have the greatest amount of specific industry expertise and therefore can understand the pros and cons inside a specific combination.
Private equity investors have been turning to the life insurance and annuity field for several years to supply consistent returns, as these companies have predictable cash flows. Through these investments, investors can strengthen their returns for assets under management with steady growth. One caveat to this investment approach may be the concern from the increasing regulatory state and federal pressures, as navigating through 50 individual state regulatory guidelines could be burdensome and difficult if a company moves from a situation and into a new one.
Foreign countries like China and Japan continue exploring opportunities to increase their presence within the U.S., the world's largest insurance market. Reasons abound: Japanese insurance companies have found U.S. acquisition targets appealing to offset the aging of Japan's population and to supply a more attractive interest rate environment. Chinese companies have been snapping up foreign companies, including in the U.S., searching for yield on their capital and economic growth.
Several reasons exist for this trend of M&A activity.
- Buyers are motivated by the current low-interest-rate environment and the opportunity to expand their assets and book of business. This has always been an important piece of the M&A discussion as market conditions must be favorable to create any transaction worth its while.
- Sellers are suffering in the low return on their capital. By exiting less profitable lines of business, they can reallocate their capital to be used in other capacities. As contemplation of one's business clarifies, many carriers may conclude that selling, rather than buying, assets may be the chosen path. Selling could stabilize or enhance a company's main point here as the capital obtained in a sale can be reinvested in its existing operations or be put to use for an additional potential acquisition.
- Increasing regulations are restricting the ability of companies to productively run their businesses; thus, they are looking for exits. Companies are often stymied by the sheer weight of complying with and managing regulations. Exiting businesses can become appealing.
Regardless of which direction is undertaken, one aspect paramount to success may be the need for ensuring that business continues to operate smoothly. In today's environment, the role of technology, specifically at any given time when companies are implementing and managing digital transformations, can be a beacon of light. And as acquirers delve deeper into possible transactions, increasingly they are employing an outsourcing model to extract more value.
Safeguarding a company's operations and maintaining its continuity through powerful technology and servicing solutions, or what we call “future proofing,” has additional benefits besides the desired functionality. Companies must first build their vision and plans and then bolster them with end-to-end operational services. This step will then enable rapid expansion into new market segments, faster product launches and seamless servicing of open and closed blocks of business. By future-proofing through technology, carriers can drive greater efficiencies, lower costs and produce higher levels of customer satisfaction.