Financial professionals are trying to figure out exactly what types of advice consumers are most likely to seek.
By Linda Koco
Two major insurance holding companies — American International Group (AIG) and ING U.S. — are pushing the branding envelope with new or revitalized identities.
AIG says it plans to “transform” its existing American General Life career distribution channel via launch of a new financial services group, the AIG Financial Network.
Meanwhile, ING U.S. has announced the drill-down for rebranding itself as Voya Financial Inc., a previously announced change that follows the company’s spinoff via an initial public offering last October.
In different ways, both moves form the tail end of bailouts that occurred during the Great Recession and that swept the two companies into a long period of change and reinvention.
For AIG, the announcement about its new “premier” advisors network marks a turning point of sorts—the point where the company puts its internationally known brand name, AIG, right up front.
This has been a long time coming. During the Great Recession of 2008-2009, the company stopped using the AIG acronym with its insurance units. That happened in the in the wake of the huge government bailout it accepted — totaling about $182 billion in all — and which AIG has since paid off.
During the post-recession period, the company’s operating insurance subsidiaries continued to debut some new products, but the AIG moniker no longer appeared as the first word in various marketing names. Its American General business continued in business, for example, but the carrier no longer marketed itself as AIG American General. The AIG acronym also vanished from product names. Later, as the company made strides in paying off its debt, the insurance units began using the AIG acronym in various public statements, but as a backdrop, not up front for all to see right away.
Now, with the debut of the AIG Financial Network, the company is putting AIG back in the limelight.
What is the network? It’s a place for experienced and new financial advisors and representatives who are looking to grow successful careers in the protection and retirement space, said Dan Mulé, senior vice president-career distribution, in the company announcement. It will provide “state-of-the-art training” and equip advisors to provide “data-driven, needs-based financial planning and consultation,” he said.
The target market is American families and small businesses.
Probably annuities will figure large in this. The company has been selling a lot of the products in recent times. For instance, in the first nine months of 2013, AIG Companies ranked in fourth place among the top 20 fixed annuity carriers and fifth among the top 20 variable annuity carriers, according to LIMRA. That’s up from year before, when AIG Companies ranked in fifth and sixth place in those lines, respectively.
ING to VOYA
The ING news broke on the same day as AIG’s announcement. The news—about how ING intends to rebrand itself—was not earthshaking, but the message was clear: We’re still in business, and we’re moving forward.
Here are the details: On April 7, the publicly listed holding company plans to change its name to Voya Financial, Inc. A month later, on May 1, ING U.S. Investment Management will rebrand to Voya Investment Management and the Employee Benefits business will begin using the Voya Financial brand.
Then, on Sept. 1, all other ING U.S. businesses will begin using the Voya Financial brand and all remaining ING U.S. legal entities that currently have names incorporating the ING brand will change their names to reflect the Voya brand.
This too marks a turning point—the end of a chapter in company history which began in October 2009 when the firm’s Dutch parent, ING Group N.V., announced it was going to divest certain global businesses, including ING U.S., Inc. The spinoff was part of a debt repayment plan stemming from the Dutch government’s bailout of the parent company during the recession.
On May 1, 2013, ING U.S. made its initial public offering, with its U.S. common stock trading on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol "VOYA."The parent company, which still owns approximately 57 percent of the outstanding common stock of the U.S. company, expects to completely divest its ownership by December 31, 2016, according to ING U.S.
To observers outside the insurance business, learning about ING’s rebranding schedule may seem hokey. After all, it’s a name change, not a new acquisition or spinoff.
But to agents and advisors who sell ING products and services, it makes a difference. For instance, they must accustom themselves to the name change and be able to explain to perhaps worried customers what the change means for their current and future situations.
Advisors at other firms derive value from rebranding news too. The intel helps them develop strategies to use when facing the rebranded company in competitive situations, for example.
As branding expert and applied research psychologist John Tantillo writes in his book, “people buy brands, not companies.” No matter what others think, says the president of Branding and Marketing Group, marketing does not get people to buy what they do not want.
It’s the brand that counts.
Linda Koco, MBA, is a contributing editor to InsuranceNewsNet, specializing in life insurance, annuities and income planning. Linda may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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