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Wingert to launch annuity-based financial agency


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Kevin Wingert has spent the past 12 years helping build West Des Moines-based American Equity Investment Life Holding Co. (AEL) from a start-up to one of the top issuers of indexed annuity products in the United States. Now, he’s emulating AEL founder David Noble’s entrepreneurial spirit by launching an independent agency that seeks to offer annuity products and investment advisory services.

Wingert recently announced he will step down as president of AEL’s main subsidiary, American Equity Investment Life Insurance Co., at the end of the year to start American Retirement Systems LLC. The new agency, to be based in West Des Moines, will seek to carve out a niche by attracting insurance agents throughout the country who want to provide a more complete financial package for customers, he said.

“The financial services industry has tended to divide itself between the insurance and securities sides,” he said. “They’ve never done a good job of meshing them together. … I think there’s an opportunity, and it’s really becoming a requirement in the market, where advisers become more diversified in their practice to look at them as a whole picture rather than a single sale.”

In the plans

American Retirement Systems, to open Jan. 15 at 5700 University Ave., will offer fixed and indexed annuities as a foundation for other higher-risk, higher-return investments its agents will sell. Wingert said he hopes to contract with a base of about 300 core producers as part of a 5,000-agent network over the next three to four years.

“Where I would really like to take the practice is to provide an investment advisory service specializing in products that would track the S&P 500 versus individual stocks or mutual funds,” Wingert said.

The 1979 Drake University graduate has spent much of his career working with Noble’s management team, beginning with American Life & Casualty, a subsidiary of the Statesman Group that Noble headed prior to starting American Equity. He joined American Equity in 1996 as vice president of marketing and was appointed to his present position in 2001.

Wingert said his agency’s anchor products will be American Equity fixed and indexed annuities, with a few other insurers’ niche annuities to be added within the next few months.

An edge in the market

Industrywide, third-quarter indexed annuity sales were up 5.18 percent over the same period in 2007, according to data tracked by AnnuitySpecs, a Pleasant Hill-based market research firm specializing in the indexed annuities market. Year-to-date indexed annuity sales increased 3.9 percent over the first nine months of 2007.

“Sales are definitely picking up now,” said Sheryl Moore, AnnuitySpecs’ founder. “With consumer exposure to the market, a lot of clients are looking to indexed annuities particularly, to experience a higher upside than a fixed annuity could provide.”

Earlier this year, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced proposed rules that would regulate the sale of indexed annuities as securities, which would require agents selling them to be registered investment advisers. Relatively few agents who sell indexed annuities have securities licenses, Moore said.

“I definitely have seen more marketing organization focusing on preparing their agents to become registered investment advisers,” she said. “But what Kevin is doing I think is entirely new; he’s creating an agency that’s doing it right from the start. … This should assist American Equity and the industry as a whole by increasing sales of indexed annuities by agents with securities licenses.”

Moore said regulators are putting additional constraints on indexed annuity sales in response to cases of annuities being improperly marketed to elderly clients, who are unlikely to live long enough to benefit from the investments, which can lock up their savings with high penalties for early redemption.

American Retirement Systems will emphasize building relationships with as many of his agents as possible, Wingert said, along with close supervision of sales that are made, to minimize unsuitable sales. The issuing companies also have their own controls, and American Equity’s complaint ratio is less than two-tenths of 1 percent of policies in force, he said.

Wingert, who announced plans for the new company on Nov. 21, one day after his 51st birthday, said he had been thinking about starting his own business for some time.

“It really has been a dream of mine to build something up myself,” he said. “I really wanted to build an organization my family could be a part of. My kids are starting to get grown. Maybe in five to six years they could be a part of it if they chose to be. It’s virtually impossible to do that in a public company.”

For more information about American Retirement Systems, visit www.AmericanRetirementSystems.com or call (888) 969-7384.

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