Wednesday, November 11, 2009

ING's insurance units attracting interest

insurance company

ING Group’s decision to split off its insurance business is attracting a lot of interest and a decision about these units could come as early as the end of year, the company’s chief executive said Wednesday.

The company, which is the world’s sixth largest insurer, originally said the divestiture of the insurance businesses should be completed in the next four years, but Wednesday’s comments suggest a speedier time line.

Chief Executive Officer Jan Hommen said in recorded comments that he should be in a position to make an announcement after a shareholders meeting scheduled for Nov. 25.

“We will develop a clear path, as to how we will go forward in separating the bank and the insurance company and determine how they both will go their own way and in what form that that will be done,” he said. “Now that will take place some time, let’s say, in late December, early January. And I hope quickly to be able to announce what the plans are to go forward.”

The Dutch insurance and financial services company announced plans Oct. 26 to separate the banking and insurance units, and eventually divest its insurance business.

The sale or public offering of ING’s insurance operations would include its Des Moines operations, home of ING USA Annuity and Life Insurance Co., which employs approximately 1,000 people in the metro area.

“We have great people in our organization who are, of course, eager to hear what the decisions are they we will make. They deserve to know quickly what those decisions are,” Homman said.

Potential buyers for the insurance units, which have expressed public interest, include Aviva, which has its U.S. operations headquartered in the Des Moines area. Aviva is the world’s fifth largest insurer.

Hommen’s comments came as the company reported that both its banking and insurance businesses returned to a profit in the third quarter. Overall, the company reported a profit of $1.16 billion, compared with $343 million in the second quarter and a loss of $850 million in the same period a year ago.

The banking side of the business reported earning $395 million, versus a loss of $37 million in the second quarter. The insurance business reported $769 million in profits for the quarter, compared with $380 million in the second quarter.

“ING achieved a strong commercial performance in the third quarter, illustrating the strength of our banking and insurance franchises even in this challenging economic environment,” Hommen said in a statement.

Insurance Americas, which includes the Des Moines operations, earned $460 million in the quarter ended Sept. 30, compared with a loss of $473 million a year ago and about 20 percent more than the $383 million it earned in the second quarter.

Results for the insurance division in the U.S. was helped by the ongoing market recover, and an 11.9 percent decline in operating expenses from reduced staff and benefit costs.

Sales fell in the division by 23 percent from the third quarter a year ago, as individual life sales declined and the company tried to limit the sale of existing variable annuities until its new rollover product is introduced.

Shares of ING were trading up about 5 percent at $15.33 at 11:36 CST on the New York Stock Exchange.