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N.C. Mutual President Says 2013 A 'Time Of Change' For Company

By Laura Oleniacz, The Herald-Sun, Durham, N.C.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

March 27--DURHAM -- N.C. Mutual Life Insurance Co. executives made some "very difficult decisions" last year to position the company for the future, company president James H. Speed Jr. said Wednesday.

The company posted a loss of about $2.35 million in 2013, its first unprofitable year after three consecutive years of profitability, Speed told policy holders, employees and others at the company's annual meeting.

He said the company made changes including investing in new technology infrastructure that negatively impacted the bottom line, and implemented a freeze on pension benefit payouts.

"We all knew we had to do this in order to have greater success in years to come," Speed said. "What we were doing would not sustain us to remain relevant or to meet current or future policy holders' needs," he also said.

Speed said the company froze its pension payments to reduce costs. While employees will still receive their pension payments after retirement, he said the company has frozen the amount they'll get. He said the company does have a 401(k) match program that will mean less cost for N.C. Mutual.

"Some of these decisions we had to make were decisions that were hard to make because we could have stretched it out further," he said. "(We) had to make bold changes and bold moves in order to position ourselves to move forward."

In addition to pension costs that the company saw last year of about $568,000, Speed said other negative impacts to the company's bottom line were an approximately $553,000 decline in investments, costs of about $188,000 for a technology infrastructure investment, group insurance losses of about $537,000, and severance costs of about $190,000 related to a layoff of about 12 employees.

Due to the technology investment, he said the company can automate some tasks that had to be done manually. The company employs about 70 people, Speed said.

In 2014, Speed said, N.C. Mutual is expecting a good year. The bottom line is expected to get a $1.1 million boost from a block of business it acquired in 2008, and from $233,000 from the 2010 acquisition of a funeral funding company. In addition, he said the company has cut operating costs.

"Those were bold steps we had to make," he said.

Acquisitions were part of the "Vision 2015" business plan Speed unveiled at the company's annual meeting in 2012. The plan also included expanding its reach into funeral home funding, launching an independent sales agency that can sell N.C. Mutual's insurance policies as well as the policies of other companies.

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The strategy is to add blocks of insurance policies acquired from other insurers in addition to serving existing policy holders, with a plan of getting fees for servicing those customers without adding overhead costs. Speed said the company is two years into that plan.

At Wednesday's meeting, Speed underscored that the company is now partnering with a range of insurance firms to sell life insurance as well as annuities, disability, critical illness, Medicare and eventually, property and casualty insurance policies.

"Our business model is built on three business components, where we will be in the distribution business, the servicing business, the financial services business, and the way we grow through each one is through partnerships and acquisitions," he said Wednesday.

The company's had posted profits in 2012, 2011 and 2010, which was the first year the company had reported a profit since 2006 when it sold its West Chapel Hill Street headquarters building that bears its nam.

The company recently marked its 115th anniversary since its founding by an original group of seven black leaders. The company was a prominent business on what became known as Durham'sBlack Wall Street.

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(c)2014 The Herald-Sun (Durham, N.C.)

Visit The Herald-Sun (Durham, N.C.) at www.heraldsun.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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