Farmers Insurance boosts comms amid $1.9bn acquisition of AIG unit

NEW YORK: Farmers Insurance, a subsidiary of Zurich Financial Services Group, ramped up its internal communications response following its planned $1.9 billion acquisition of American International Group's (AIG) US Personal Auto Group, which includes 21st Century Insurance.

NEW YORK: Farmers Insurance, a subsidiary of Zurich Financial Services Group, ramped up its internal communications response following its planned $1.9 billion acquisition of American International Group's (AIG) US Personal Auto Group, which includes 21st Century Insurance.

Within moments of the April 16 acquisition announcement, e-mails were sent to stakeholders; press conferences and teleconferences were hosted; and the company's Web sites were updated.

On April 20, 50 Farmers executives were sent to 32 metropolitan areas, including Los Angeles, Denver, and Omaha, NE, to speak directly to its 15,000 exclusive agents. An appearance by CEO Robert Woudstra at an annual Farmers conference in Sacramento on April 20-21 was also highlighted as an opportunity to speak with 800 gathered agents.

“Our agents are our ambassadors,” said Mark Toohey, SVP for media relations for Farmers and Zurich in North America.

Farmers' agents sell a variety of insurance, including home, business, and life; 21st Century only sells auto insurance. It was important for Farmers to let their agents know that this acquisition meant there would be prospects to sell additional insurance to 21st Century's clients.

“This is going to open up this brave new world,” he added. “Once the integration is complete, we'll be able to introduce our agents to these 21st Century customers who've only been buying auto insurance.”

The company plans to complete the sale by the third quarter, but until then, Toohey said, measuring internal communications' impact will be a priority.

“We think we'll learn from that research whether we need to… take another pass at communicating to our folks,” he explained. “Maybe we need to change our messages a little bit. During the interim [period], we're going to continue to communicate.”

The acquisition also provided Zurich with a chance to further its communications goals.

“More than anything, the acquisition in this kind of [economic] turmoil was a testament to the strength of Zurich,” said Sean Kevelighan, VP and head of group media relations, North America, at Zurich. “This was a positive story about a financial services company and a good story about paying taxpayer dollars back. As an industry, we're solid. We need to be doing more in terms of communicating that.”

AIG has received more than $180 billion in taxpayer bailout funding, though CEO Edward Liddy has asserted that the company intends to repay that money.

Despite AIG's problems, Kevelighan said its “core insurance business… was strong,” and both Zurich and Farmers have stated their intention to keep the 21st Century brand.

“This acquisition… was of a very strong and stable brand that AIG had,” he added. “We thought it was a good acquisition of a strong company while, at the same time, a good story.”

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