Axa wants to play a leading role in further consolidation in the global life assurance industry, according to a top executive.
Kip Condron, head of Axa Financial, the French group’s US arm, said the group was “a buyer” of smaller companies and was also interested in a larger deal that would dramatically increase its scale.
“We will see more consolidation in the life assurance industry, and not just in the US,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times.
Axa is ready for another deal in the US following last year’s $1.45bn acquisition of MONY, life assurer. Mr Condron said. “There are some good fits for us that we would love to do.”
In addition, Mr Condron said Henri de Castries, Axa chief executive, was open to an “elephant” deal that would substantially increase its size.
Mr Condron said the life assurance industry was facing a big opportunity as the baby boom generation reached retirement.
Increased life expectancy meant that those approaching retirement needed to put money into equities for long-term growth. But they also needed guaranteed income and death benefits that only life assurers could provide.
“This is the time for insurance companies. This is the time for guarantees,” he said, adding that life assurance had the chance “to re-emerge as the most powerful industry in financial services”.
However, analysts say life assurers suffer from a high cost base compared with rivals in the long-term savings market, which means continued pressure for cost-saving mergers.
Mr Condron, who spent most of his career in the asset management industry, argues that the life insurance industry has not done enough to promote the “fantastic benefits” of its products and needs to work harder on its image. “Just like Gucci or Burberry, I think we can rebrand the industry.”
Axa Financial is in the process of hiring an advertising agency for a new campaign and the American Council of Life Insurers is planning a campaign on the benefits of variable annuities.
These allow people close to retirement to invest in equity mutual funds for long-term growth while providing minimum income guarantees and death benefits.
However, the product has come under fierce media criticism following a number of cases of mis-selling of an unregulated variant called equity index annuities.
These cases prompted William Galvin, Massachusetts secretary of state, to declare that variable annuities were “almost always not a good investment for older people”.
But Mr Condron said it was unfair to equate this particular product with variable annuities as a whole, which were “the best retirement vehicle of all time.”