Allianz Follows Hartford, Principal in Seeking Relief (Update1)

By Andrew Frye
Bloomberg News
April 16, 2009

April 16 (Bloomberg) -- Allianz SE, Europe's biggest insurer, requested accounting relief from a U.S. regulator after rivals including Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. and Principal Financial Group Inc. won looser capital requirements.

"Philosophically, economically, financially, we think it's appropriate," Gary Bhojwani, chief executive officer of Allianz's North American life insurance subsidiary, said in an interview. "If they said yes, great. If they said no, we wouldn't be losing any sleep over it. It's not a make-or-break issue for us."

Life insurers are seeking lower standards from their state watchdogs after losses on stocks, corporate bonds and commercial mortgages eroded capital last year. Hartford, based in the Connecticut city of the same name, won $987 million in relief from its state regulator, and lower capital requirements in Iowa added $387.4 million to Des Moines-based Principal's surplus.

"We're watching how other companies are working through the crisis and what steps they're taking, and if we see something that makes sense to us, we're looking at it as well," Bhojwani said.

Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America is in talks with its regulator in Minnesota about counting a greater portion of future tax benefits toward required capital, Bhojwani said. The potential benefit, which may be realized in 2009 results, would be "quite a bit less" than $200 million, Bhojwani said without providing a figure.

The unit, which makes most of its revenue selling annuities, expects business to grow in coming years as customers seek retirement products that guarantee an income stream for life, Bhojwani said. Both fixed and variable annuities had net inflows in the first quarter, Bhojwani said.

"In the next five to ten years, this business is absolutely going to take off," Bhojwani said. "We're already seeing signs of that."

Allianz Life has benefited from stable credit ratings as Standard & Poor's and Moody's Investors Service have downgraded competitors, including Hartford, Principal and Lincoln National Corp. Hartford's main life insurance subsidiary was cut three times by S&P this year, while Principal and Lincoln had their units downgraded once each.

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