The BCG Pension Insider

February 2023 – Volume 148, Edition 1

Spotlight Series – Q&A with Nationwide

Building a PRT Insurance Business Centered on Operational Excellence

Nationwide

Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company

Headquarters Columbus, OH
Year Founded 1926
PRT Experience 60 years
PRT Portfolio 450 contracts
Website nationwidefinancial.com/PRT

* As of September 30, 2023

Paula Cole

Paula ColeHead of Pension Risk Transfer

With decades of experience in the Defined Benefit, Pension Risk Transfer and HR Benefit Administration space, Paula leads the Nationwide Pension Risk Transfer team in supporting the acquisition and transfer of pension liabilities to Nationwide from plan sponsors facing financial risk and associated plan management challenges.

Paula Cole can be contacted at 614-677-4100, or colep8@nationwide.com

BCG: Can you tell us about Nationwide’s position in today’s U.S. pension risk transfer market and how it has evolved?

Cole: For nearly 100 years, Nationwide has been known as a P&C insurer, growing from a small mutual auto insurer owned by policyholders to number 83 on the 2023 Fortune 500 list. And we’ve grown to protect more than just cars. We’ve seen rapid growth from our financial services solutions, including business insurance, annuities, life insurance, mutual funds and retirement plans. That growth, combined with our strong P&C business, has fueled Nationwide’s performance.

Our Corporate Solutions team, where our pension risk transfer business lives, was established in 2019. We’re a strategic portfolio of businesses that offer tailored solutions for institutional customers, providing an important source of earnings, diversification and growth for Nationwide. And grow we have! Nationwide PRT ended 2022 with $1.3 billion in sales¹, and we expect to continue growing due to our competitive pricing and the breadth of industry knowledge across the team. We’re focused on elevating and accelerating our people, processes and tools to maintain our position as an industry leader while supporting annuity plan advisers, plan sponsors and members. Our year-over-year success is proof our strategy is working.

BCG: Nationwide’s PRT business has grown significantly since the company re-entered the PRT market in 2020. Why did the company commit capital to growing the PRT business and why commit the capital to PRT as opposed to deploying it to grow other product lines?

Cole: Great companies look for ways to continuously improve and add more value for customers – and Nationwide proudly holds itself to this high standard. In 2019, one of the areas we chose to commit to was our Corporate Solutions team, which invests in solutions that differentiate us in the institutional marketplace. As a company dedicated to protecting people, businesses and futures with extraordinary care, we knew that we were in a unique position to help plan sponsors de-risk by assuming responsibility for future annuity payments, thereby allowing for a reduction to the size and complexity of the pension plan. Our proven track record with managing risk, our strong and stable financial position, our diversified product portfolio and our deep experience working with corporate customers, plan sponsors and their participants made it an easy choice to re-enter the PRT market to help those looking to transfer their pension risk, particularly during the extreme market volatility we were seeing in 2020.

BCG: When onboarding a new PRT case, what sets the Nationwide transition experience apart for participants?

Cole: The transition of defined benefit pension plan liabilities to PRTs requires a melding of strategy and execution to ensure a smooth transition process. This transition process is critical to deliver a seamless, accurate and complete transfer of participant information, uninterrupted payments and accurate pricing of solutions for the plan sponsor and annuity provider.

Nationwide’s transition experience ensures that plan participants have a seamless change to Nationwide. This is done through a focus on data conversion by both the plan sponsor and insurer early in the process. Communicating changes to participants is also vital, including what is and is not changing, followed by the insurer communication a short time later confirming expectations and key dates. This establishes trust, welcomes annuitants to the insurer and builds confidence that the participants’ hard-earned benefit will continue correctly and uninterrupted under the insurance contract.

We also extend the same level of care throughout the life of participants’ annuity. This includes a dedicated team of call center representatives that provide consultative support, safe and secure contact center authentication and account protection and self-service options, including the ability to initiate retirement online.

BCG: How are you adapting your operating model during this time of significant market growth?

Cole: After facing years of volatile markets, plan sponsors are looking for ways to reduce their financial risks so they can focus more on managing their business, turning to PRTs and causing the rapid growth in the industry we’re seeing today. With our proven track record with risk management and strong financial services products, Nationwide is here to meet them. We’re focused on nimble growth, allowing us to successfully adapt to changing markets so we can navigate challenges and seize opportunities. We’re doing this through a commitment to process excellence and continuous improvement. Our team is encouraged to work together to find ways to make processes more efficient using lean principles. Lean is a way of thinking about creating needed value with fewer resources and less waste and includes steps like defining value, creating flow and pursuing perfection. Using these principles, we’re positioning our operating model to be successful in any market condition.

BCG: What makes Nationwide’s PRT team leaders in operational excellence?

Cole: Nationwide’s PRT team leaders are aligned to meet the evolving needs of the PRT marketplace with extraordinary care. For more than 60 years, we’ve assumed liabilities from pension plans, including our current block of more than 450 contracts. When we chose to re-enter the market in 2020, we married our decades of enterprise experience in annuities with leaders who were highly experienced in PRT, allowing us to build on our previous knowledge of the industry and evolve to meet the current needs of our customers. In addition to our expertise, we emphasize continuous improvement among the team, striving for process excellence that enhances the experience of plan sponsors and participants. Our leaders have the data they need to make nimble decisions leveraging lean principles, creating more efficient processes and increased team productivity with a focus on quality and value.

BCG: Operational excellence is at the center of everything you do. How can plan sponsors mimic that same excellence when it comes to the transition of their plan?

Cole: With a pension risk transfer, the transition experience is critically important to the success of the overall risk transfer. To ensure a successful transition, plan sponsors need to work well with a variety of players and develop a solid game plan. Here at Nationwide, we’ve developed a six-step playbook using lean principles that lays out the best ways to navigate PRT transactions. Many of these steps occur simultaneously, but all steps are important and part of the process:

  1. Assemble a Winning Team: Partner with annuity placement specialists, actuaries, legal counsel, recordkeepers and plan administrators, ensuring each player pulls on their specialties to participate in a process that will ultimately reduce financial and operational risks.
  2. Choose a Strategy: Each PRT is unique and requires individualization. This may include a lump-sum window, retiree lift-out, annuity buy-in or full plan termination. A number of factors influence PRT strategy, including participant demographics, the plan’s level of funding and benefit formula.
  3. Analyze and Adjust: While the strategy is being determined, the annuity placement specialist, recordkeeper, actuary and the plan sponsor’s finance department need to analyze the current plan’s assets and liabilities. Does the plan sponsor have adequate funds and cash flow to finance the preferred PRT strategy? Does the defined benefit plan itself have adequate funds to support the strategy? What impact will the PRT have on the plan sponsor’s long-term financial liabilities and remaining defined benefit plan’s funded status?
  4. Gather Data: Data is important for insurers who respond to request for proposals for a group annuity because they need the most accurate and robust plan participant data available to accurately price their product. Data includes information about participants (age, address, form of payment) as well as information about designated beneficiaries and survivor benefits.
  5. Choose an Annuity Provider: All PRT strategies, aside from lump-sum windows, will include issuing a request for proposal to insurers to find the best group annuity contract. Plan sponsors via their engaged annuity placement specialist should seek out carriers that are strong, stable and have available capacity to accept the proposed group annuity contract. They should also seek out providers who have high customer satisfaction, homing in on companies that offer continued due diligence in customer servicing.
  6. Communicate: Internal communication among the various team members needs to occur in a timely and concise manner. Communication to plan participants is equally important because it will help provide peace of mind.

BCG: In closing, you’ve mentioned lean principles multiple times in this interview. Can you provide a recent real-world example of where your PRT team used lean principles?

Cole: Yes, love to! We recently consolidated and leveraged market data to develop a system thinking approach to bid selection. System thinking means recognizing that all pieces of an organization connect, interact and play a part in outcomes. This approach has helped us create velocity in our bidding decisions, accelerating quality and efficiency to deliver quick responses during bidding transactions and high performance through sales transitions. Our sales results and positive market feedback on our transition delivery are proof that we’re continuing to achieve success using our operational excellence mentality.

¹ 2023 PRT sales scheduled to be released on March 1st.


Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company Commences Participation in BCG’s Monthly Annuity Buyout Pricing Survey

Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company (Nationwide) is now participating in BCG’s monthly annuity buyout pricing survey, effective this month. Nationwide re-entered the US Pension Risk Transfer (PRT) market in 2020.

Nationwide, a Fortune 100 company based in Columbus, Ohio is one of the largest and strongest diversified insurance and financial services organizations in the United States. For more than 60 years, Nationwide has assumed liabilities from pension plans, including their current block of more than 450 contracts. With a proven track record with risk management and a personalized service model, Nationwide provides transition simplicity through a team of experts who lead each client through the process from end to end.

Nationwide is rated A+ by Standard & Poor’s. An industry leader in driving customer-focused innovation, Nationwide provides a full range of insurance and financial services products including auto, business, homeowners, farm and life insurance; public and private sector retirement plans, annuities and mutual funds; excess & surplus, specialty and surety; and pet, motorcycle and boat insurance.

In total, there are 21 PRT insurers currently active in the market, with thirteen new entrants since 2014 that remain in the market. Of the 21 insurers, 16 are now participating in BCG’s monthly pricing survey. Other participating insurers include American National, Athene, Corebridge Financial, F&G, Legal & General, MassMutual, MetLife, Midland National, Mutual of Omaha, OneAmerica, Pacific Life, Principal, Prudential, Securian Financial and Western & Southern.

BCG uses the rates gathered in its survey to measure and monitor annuity pricing for its clients via its PRT Analysis and Customized Buyout Price Monitoring (CBPM) services and also to compile the BCG PRT Index, which is the longest standing pension buyout index in the United States. The Index provides an easy comparison of annuity pricing to various important pension liability measures.

About BCG Pension Risk Consultants | BCG Penbridge (“BCG”)

BCG specializes in assisting defined benefit plan sponsors with managing the costs and risks associated with their pension plans. Since 1983, BCG has successfully helped over 2,500 organizations achieve their pension de-risking goals.

To contact BCG, please reach out to Steve Keating at skeating@bcgpension.com


ANNUITY PURCHASE RATES

Sample Interest Rates for a Pension Annuity Buyout
(Assumes no lump sums, disability, or unusual provisions)

Retirees (duration of 7) – 4.65%
Term Vesteds (duration of 10) – 4.67%
Actives (duration of 15) – 4.59%

Annuity Purchase Rates as of February 1, 2024