Great-West CEO mulls bringing firm’s three units under one brand

Could the current revamping of Winnipeg-based Great-West Lifeco Inc. (Lifeco) lead to consolidating all of its long-standing operating units under a single brand name?

Relaunching Winnipeg-based Great-West Life Assurance Co. (GWL), Toronto-based Canada Life Assurance Co. and London, Ont.-based London Life Insurance Co., under a single banner is a topic of discussion at the firm, said CEO Paul Mahon at the firms’ annual general meeting in Winnipeg on Thursday.

“This is always on our minds,” he said in an interview with Investment Executive. “The idea of migrating to a single brand is something that we always think about, but we would only do it if it made sense from the standpoint of getting to the customer more effectively and supporting our distribution channels.”

Although this is not “currently an active file” for the firm, these same considerations were at play when Lifeco bought London Life in 1997 and Canada Life in 2003.

“What’s the right business positioning for us in the context of getting to the consumer? When we acquired Canada Life and London Life, clearly with the importance of those brands to the advisor channel and to the consumer, it made sense for us to hang on to those very strong and historical brands,” Mahon said.

Lifeco’s chairman, Jeff Orr, alluded to the long history by remarking that Canada Life was having its 169th AGM while London Life and GWL were hosting their 142nd and 125th AGMs, respectively.

“Could somebody add that up? Paul? That’s a lot of meetings,” Orr said.

Mahon, who has spent his entire career at Lifeco, didn’t tip his hand about any potential favourites, should such a branding exercise be taken.

“I don’t even know what my personal preference would be at this stage,” he said. “First of all, you have to decide if that’s where you’re going. The second part of the process is, what’s the best name, image or purpose that you want to put out there. We’ll get to that when we get to that, but that’s not anything we’ve made any decisions on.”

Mahon briefly touched on the elephant in the room during his remarks: the announcement last week that GWL, London Life and Canada Life planned to reduce their workforces by a combined 1,500 people, or 13% of their total staffs.

Read: GWL to reduce workforce as firm focuses on technology

This followed the news in late March that GWL, Canada Life and London Life have renamed their combined distribution organization to Advisory Network and two executives have been appointed to new positions within that group.

Read: Two execs named to new roles as part of GWL reorganization

It’s crucial for Lifeco to adapt to these times, Mahon said. For example, 88% of the health and dental claims submitted to its operating units are processed electronically.

“Nobody is touching them, so there are a lot of people who don’t do that anymore,” he added. “We have new people who different things, they operate in cybersecurity and different customer service jobs. It’s a transition from what would have been paper processing roles to value-added roles.”

Mahon again harkened back to the London Life and Canada Life acquisitions, noting Lifeco initially pulled back on costs to attain efficiencies in both instances but ultimately hired more people in new roles.

Just before the meeting, Lifeco released its first quarter results, highlighted by net earnings attributable to common shareholders of $591 million ($0.598 per common share), down from $620 million in the first three months of 2016, or $0.625 per common share.

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