Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company closed on its deal to acquire Great American Life Insurance Company, a subsidiary of publicly traded American Financial Group, last May. Now the unit, which provides fixed indexed and registered indexed-linked annuities to some 50,000 retail advisors, is relinquishing the Great American name back to its former parent and rebranding to MassMutual Ascend.
Besides the branding, nothing much else is changing. MassMutual Ascend will continue to operate as an independent subsidiary of MassMutual, with its more than 600 employees supporting the business from its Cincinnati headquarters.
“While we get all the strength, brand recognition, size and scale that a MassMutual provides, our organization continues to manufacture, operate, service and support everything out of Cincinnati, Ohio,” said Joe Maringer, senior vice president and national sales manager at MassMutual Ascend.
Great American Ball Park will still be the name of the home of the Cincinnati Reds, the Major League Baseball team.
The firm’s products, guarantees and contractual obligations, and policy details remain intact. It has direct service agreements with LPL Financial, Wells Fargo, PNC Bank and Cetera Financial, Maringer said.
While MassMutual has a more captive model, MassMutual Ascend has a greater distribution foothold among independent agents, independent broker/dealers and registered investment advisory firms, which was an attractive area of growth for MassMutual.
“That wasn’t a space that they had capitalized on previously through the annuity line of business, so it was really a nice dovetail into all the other operations that MassMutual does so well,” Maringer said.
The firm also leverages third-party distribution through independent marketing organizations.
“The model—what makes it nice and was attractive to MassMutual—is the fact that we don’t have a huge overhead infrastructure,” Maringer said. “By levering third parties in the marketplace, we can touch more people that way and provide more value to the end consumer, which is obviously very important to us.”
He says 50,000 advisors are appointed to do business with MassMutual Ascend, and the firm had about 10,000 advisors work with them in the last year. Over the last five years, inclusive of this one, the firm will put on about $27 billion of annuity premium.
Maringer has been leading a strategic initiative at the firm to improve the technology and join platforms and exchanges, including Envestnet’s Insurance Exchange; SIMON Markets, a Goldman Sachs spinoff acquired by iCapital this year; and Luma Financial Technologies. One of Luma’s tools allows advisors to compare the prices and performance of various annuities, including variable annuities, fixed index annuities and registered index-linked annuities, under test conditions.
“Now more than ever, whether it’s reps, dually registered or sole independent wealth managers, they’re looking for alternatives—alternatives that can principally protect and grow, get some tax advantages, which annuities provide,” Maringer said.
The problem is, annuities are a nondiscretionary asset, making it difficult for advisors to transact.
“Our investment—previously at Great American Life and now will continue on at MassMutual Ascend—is in technology and how we can fit inside the portfolio and make insurance more accessible,” Maringer said.
Right now, if an advisor wants to buy an annuity, they have to go to five different places: one for the appointment, one for training, another for modeling the product, another for order entry, and then back to the insurer’s website for the management of the policy.
“In the investment advisory world, we’ve always talked about moving money with a mouse and the ability to go into a turnkey asset management platform and select whatever model I’m in and go from one model to the next, and I have discretion over that as an investment advisor,” he said.
“But insurance, sadly, mainly because of regulation but some because the insurance space is somewhat archaic when it comes to technology, the ability that a Luma and a SIMON and an Envestnet via the Insurance Exchange provides is one ecosystem where the advisor can get appointed, can do training, can do the modeling, can actually hit the buy now button and do the management within one spot.”