the fed dole: hartford insurance, come on down!

Spotlighting Wall Street's Welfare companies

I've been loving the Occupy Wall Street group. And their newly published newspaper, the Occupy Wall Street Journal. So far it is only four pages. I'd suggest that the paper feature spotlights - easily assembled bits of new analysis about the entities on Wall Street that the Federal Reserve helped out, in a friendly way, with its 16 tril. in emergency loans.

So, without further ado, let's go on to one of them: Hartford Financial Services, which is of course more famous as Hartford Insurance. The Hartford took a heady flyer in the 00s, and alas, due to its CDS biz with AIG and its role in the sub-prime market biz, it was gonna have to go bankrupt when AIG had to go bankrupt. But luckily, Uncle Sam arrived! According to the Inspector General’s report on TARP:

“The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc, which received 3.4 billion, reported that it invested 3.2 billion (94 percent) in high quality short-term investments or money market funds. This allowed the company to issue additional insurance policies. Hartford also provided $195 million (6 percent) in TARP funds to Federal Trust Bank…”

Now you might think, gee, isn’t it just sweet of Uncle Sam to loan out money to businesses who can then “invest’ them in short term money markets, i.e. put a couple billion down on a crap table? Why it is sweet. In fact, perhaps you should write your congressman suggesting that Uncle Sam loan you 3.4 billion dollars to invest in short term money markets. You can assure Uncle that you, too, will do something ultra virtuous with the profits.

But then, you might not have the pull Hartford has. Let’s look at their stellar CEOs!

The CEO in 2008, when Hartford needed just that pinch of help from Uncle, was a guy named Ramani Ayer. Now, you might think a CEO who steered the company near bankruptcy would be suffering at least a bit of a salary cut. You’d be right! According to Forbes, Ayer went from being the 76th on the list of CEO salaries all the way down to 151st. His total compensation was only 9.8 million, and that plummeted the figure for his five year compensation down to a mere 77.86 million. A man can barely buy a good cheeseburger (and a small town in Maine) for such a paltry sum.

Well, Ayer had generally a good run. The usual bumlicking profiles were issued about him in the 00s. He had the touch! He superbly managed the company - and how about that stock price. All the way up to when everything blew up on him. When he received criticism like this:

“The company and its stock price have taken such a battering that a retiree of The Hartford asked Ayer at the annual meeting when he would resign.

"Congratulations on driving The Hartford into the ground," Justin Winthrop, 88, of West Hartford, told Ayer. "You've destroyed the image, reputation and the name of The Hartford. When may we expect your resignation?"

Winthrop said he has been a stockholder since the 1940s, retired from The Hartford in 1982 after more than 30 years, and had been a secretary of the company — an officer level below vice president. He told Ayer if he didn't step down, the company's directors, who have "had their heads in the sand," should consider firing him.

Ayer, in response at the shareholder meeting, said nothing about resigning but said he understood it has been a traumatic time for shareholders and that he and the company are trying hard to restore its image.

In the interview, he added, "I feel we are in a very good place now with all the actions we have taken, the strategic thinking we have done. I really for now am focused on making sure we just continue that work."

In Connecticut, where the company had 12,500 employees at year-end, Ayer said the life and annuity operations "will certainly be impacted" by layoffs — the variable annuity business is being scaled back — and he expects property-casualty operations "would not be impacted anywhere near the same extent."

Now, to be fair, in response to the crisis and getting a little allowance from the Fed, Ayer’s compensation, as we pointed out, did go way down. And in due course he was canned, and the new CEO came in with an inflation adjusted salary – times are tough, and we can’t blame the new CEO, Liam McGee, for taking a bit more – he was given a mere 4. 8 million in cash and 7.26 million in stock.

He is not, of course, the only millionaire working in the upper management of Hartford. The Courier ran a nice article about the upper management compensation of Hartford last year, that should make us all proud that we helped these guys out:

"By any measure, 2010 was a significant turn-around year for The Hartford," said company spokeswoman Shannon Lapierre. "We reported $1.7 billion in net income versus a net loss of more than $888 million in the prior year."

Chief Financial Officer Christopher Swift received $2.1 million last year in salary, incentive pay, change in pension value, stocks vested and other compensation. Additionally, he received stock awards valued at $1.79 million when they were granted which will vest at a later date.

Swift, a former AIG life insurance executive, took over as chief financial officer in February 2010.

Lizabeth Zlatkus, the former chief financial officer and current chief risk officer, received $4.89 million in salary, incentive pay, change in pension value, stocks vested and other compensation. She also received stock awards valued at $2.67 million when they were granted and will vest later.

David Levenson, president of the company's wealth management division, was compensated $3.2 million, not including $1.3 million in stock awards that vest later.

Gregory McGreevey, chief investment officer and president of Hartford Investment Management Co., was compensated $2.55 million, not including $1.2 million in stock awards that vest later.

Andrew Pinkes, executive vice president of claims and head of commercial markets, was compensated $2.26 million, not including $782,617 in stock awards that vest later.

Former Chief Operating Officer John Walters received $5.37 million in salary, stocks vested, severance and other compensation, which doesn't include $1.77 million in stock awards that vest later. Walters left in July to "pursue other opportunities."

I particularly liked the fact that Hartford could cough up so many bucks for Walters when, apparently, he only worked at the company half a year. Good job! I'm sure that the money bought very valuable intangible good will from Walters, whereever his other opportunities lead him.

Among the comments to thsi Hartford Courier article, we especially like this one:

“Been with this company since coming out of college about 10 yrs ago. I do have a degree and several certifications. Upper mgmt lowered most employess tiers (demotion) because they wanted to restructure our career paths. Pay is low for someone who starts at the bottom and a typical annual increase is 2.5% of your salary. Work here only out of desperation.”

Well, times change, and Hartford changes with the times, too! After the Fed bailouts, Congress, pretending to care, passed a package of regulatory changes that especially impacted on systematically important financial players. Now, one definition of that is a player who is an insurance company who gets 3.2 billion dollars to ‘invest’ in the short term money markets from Uncle Sam. But apparently, it is no longer going to do that stuff, no sir! According to a recent NYT article, with which I’ll end this spotlight:

A few big insurers have sheared off businesses that would land them under the Federal Reserve’s thumb.
n May, the Hartford Financial Services Group sold off a thrift it bought in 2009 to secure billions of dollars of bailout funds designated for banks. In February, the Allstate Corporation sold a similar bank that had made it eligible for aid, though it decided not to accept the cash.
Now, both Hartford and Allstate are arguing that they should not be deemed systemically important — a claim raising eyebrows in financial policymaking circles.
“You would want to be particularly attentive to firms that got themselves into trouble during the crisis, needed government assistance, and now that they are subject to real supervision at the federal level, are hoping to escape additional regulation,” said Michael S. Barr, who recently stepped down as the assistant Treasury secretary for financial institutions to return to the University of Michigan law school.
A Hartford Financial spokesman, David Snowden, said the sale was part of a broader strategy of “focusing our resources on our core business and insurance operations.” Allstate, in a statement, said its decision was partly due to concerns that the new financial legislation would impose rules that the company “did not consider beneficial given the limited role of the Allstate Bank in our overall strategic plans.”