Tier One Interview: Ann Teixeira
This month, we are bringing you a very special edition of our Tier One interview series. To celebrate her 80th birthday, our CEO, Jay Judas, sat down with his mentor and friend, Ann Teixeira. The pair look back at Ann's illustrious career, including her role in helping to create one of the life insurance industry's most lucrative distributions, and how busy she stays in retirement.
JAY: I am so happy you agreed to do this. You have served as my career mentor for decades and, for a long time, I have wanted to highlight the major contributions you made to the life insurance industry. This month marks your 80th birthday and although you retired from Sun Life Financial ten years ago, you certainly haven’t retired from being extremely busy and involved in a dizzying number of associations and activities.
You spent 48 years working roughly 16 years each for three different organizations – Harvard University, The New England and Sun Life Financial. What many people don’t know is that you started the high-net-worth offshore life insurance market segment in 1995 and this has led to over $100 billion in universal life and indexed universal life premium for, primarily, four Bermuda-domiciled insurers – Sun Life, Transamerica, AIA and Manulife. That is about $10.5 billion in commissions, by the way. We will talk all about this and your other accomplishments in a bit. Let’s start with where you grew up and what eventually led you to the life insurance industry.
ANN: Wow! I wish I’d been working for commissions! First, thank you for adding me to your list of distinguished Tier One interview participants.
I began life in Michigan — born in Detroit, brought up in Birmingham where I loved school and learned to swim which set me up for lifelong exercising. But my mother had grown up in the East and from an early age I felt a ‘pull’ to go somewhere else — much as I swam, I felt like ‘a fish out of water’. I followed my mother by going to the University of Michigan and headed to Boston with a couple of girlfriends in the summer of our graduation. I had a teaching job — at my parents’ insistence. I wasn’t meant for that either. I met the man I married and a couple years later we moved to NYC for his job and I loved it!
To bring this story to a conclusion, we returned to Boston after a couple of years, I went to work at the Harvard Business School and subsequently the School of Public Health. Since the best opportunities in management in an academic institution go to members of the faculty and the professions, after 12 years in some interesting positions but no prospects of leading anything except Admissions or Development, I decided I should move on.
One of the benefits of eight years at HBS were my relationships with many professors who helped me translate my experience into a resume that would make sense to businesspeople, and then gave me introductions to their contacts in Boston. What a wonderful gift that was!
In January 1980 I joined New England Life as Senior Consultant in the Corporate Planning department, a good base from which the rest of my career evolved.
JAY: Over the years, I have seen your unique “superpower” when it comes to whatever project in which you are involved. You can take an amorphous idea, new topic or subject matter where there isn’t a lot of existing information and experience and bring it to life with structure that includes procedures, processes and outcomes.
I saw this with the offshore insurance work you did as well as when the area of anti-money laundering was new and, as Sun Life’s AML Officer, you became the measure of a proper AML program for the industry. Is this a good assessment? If you could, talk about your life insurance career and how you used this “superpower”.
ANN: Well, my first ‘amorphous’ assignment at New England Life was to figure out why the company was almost out of space despite a Facilities study a couple years prior that projected sufficient space for the next 10 years. That’s an example of the rest of my career — take on something that has a specific goal but no plan for reaching it and follow my nose to figure it out and make it happen…..sometimes to fix something and sometimes to build from scratch.
My final role, at what was by then called The New England, was Vice President for Client Management.
This meant shifting the company’s focus from celebrating almost exclusively success in new sales to focusing on net growth in its life insurance business — number of new policies and dollars of life insurance coverage and premium in-force, and to recognizing policies and premium lost by cannibalizing business through replacement as well as by policyholder death, and then building the management reporting to track it all.
It also led to proselytizing to General Agents and their sales force in the benefits to them of maintaining and nurturing relationships with their in-force clients, leading to both retention of, and new sales to, those clients, referrals from them to new clients, and the overall growth in their book of business.
JAY: I want to focus on your involvement with the birth of the high-net-worth offshore life insurance market. For those who are unfamiliar, this was an idea brought to you to execute by Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada executives in the U.S. They had conceived of a business model for selling ‘offshore’ U.S. style variable annuities and universal life insurance to high-net-worth people in jurisdictions around the world, exclusive of Canada and the U.S.
After you found your footing with the right distribution, the business model remained stable for 15 years – a client’s private bank in places like Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai and parts of Latin America would finance the premium and a life insurance brokerage with sales officers in those private bank jurisdictions would write the business. Most premiums easily exceeded a million dollars, if not several times that amount. Financially, it was a successful business for Sun Life and I believe, today, this portfolio still powers Sun Life’s remaining U.S. employee benefits business. How did this come about and why do you think it was successful?
ANN: Yes, David Horn, General Manager of Sun Life in the U.S., and Sy Raboy, Deputy General Manager, and a couple of other Sun Life U.S. executives had conceived the idea and created a legal structure for a Bermuda-based subsidiary to develop and market U.S. style variable annuity and universal life contracts to wealthy individuals around the world, focused initially on Asia and Latin America.
With the assistance of a very experienced actuary and a smart, practical lawyer, they wrote what in Sun Life parlance was known as a ‘For Consideration’ document presenting the business case and legal underpinnings to the corporate senior leadership of Sun Life in Toronto.
Once they received the go-ahead, they came to me to ask if I would join Sun Life to be General Manager of Sun Life Financial Services Limited, the subsidiary they had formed in Bermuda, to bring the business to life.
This was the ultimate figure it out from scratch opportunity. You know the ‘birdcage’ at the intersection of Front and Queen Streets in Hamilton, Bermuda. Based on the legal structure in the documents they gave me to understand the business, I pictured myself standing in that birdcage and directing the traffic among all the players required to make the business run!
I don’t have any idea how I figured it out — I had no idea what ‘offshore business’ even meant. But somehow it came together, I followed my nose as usual, and the business is still viable within Sun Life, albeit having been morphed in a number of ways over the last 25 years.
The biggest challenge, as you alluded to, was finding the ‘right’ distribution for the life insurance side of the business. Large U.S. banks had relationship officers with access to wealthy foreign nationals which provided the foundation for the annuity side of the business and that sustained the overall business until we found the key to distributing offshore life insurance. Certainly, when I hired you to run the distribution, you were immensely helpful in building out the number of distribution partners and lessening the concentration risk the business originally had from a small number of large volume General Agents.
JAY: That is really amazing. When you look at our industry, there are few other strategies introduced over the past 30 years which have been so successful and financially meaningful.
After several years in Bermuda, the Bermuda subsidiary was profitable, and you returned to the U.S. to oversee its evolution and take on other responsibilities. In 2005, when the Feds finally issued regulations for insurance companies under the Patriot Act, passed in 2001, anti-money laundering became critical for all life insurers in the U.S. Sun Life’s U.S. President, Bob Salipante, asked you to step into the newly created role of AML Officer. It was probably the definition of a “green-field” job! You really enjoyed that position. Why was that and why is AML work so important?
ANN: It was a “greenfield” job because the Bermuda government had passed its Proceeds of Crime, or AML, law in 1997, so I had already created an anti-money laundering program for the Bermuda business, working closely with our Bermuda law firm. That program was especially complicated because of all the ‘know your customer’ requirements within the structures that held the Bermuda-issued life insurance policies.
Developing the program for the U.S. business was more straightforward in terms of processes to vet the business at the time of sale, but infinitely more complicated in terms of monitoring the business in-force. Identifying and reporting suspicious activities was at the core of the AML program, which meant identifying all the types of transactions that could occur and determining the parameters or thresholds that would make them suspicious.
At the same time the corporate office in Toronto created a task force of AML officers from its jurisdictions around the world to vet a group of firms that had developed software for suspicious activity monitoring. That was a fascinating experience to meet and learn something about Sun Life’s business around the world.
I had two outstanding colleagues on my staff in Wellesley who did all the hard work to fit the U. S. business into the software system the task force chose, and who worked with me on training staff throughout the U.S. headquarters on the risks of money laundering and a smaller group on how to use the transaction monitoring output reports to spot any suspicious incidents and file SARS with FinCEN. It was challenging and rewarding work.
JAY: In 2012, a year after you retired from Sun Life, you joined the board of directors for Bermuda’s largest and highest rated publicly-traded insurer, BF&M Group. Serving as a director of a public company is quite an accomplishment. Obviously, your past ties to Bermuda were helpful but how did your appointment come about and what was it like to help guide BF&M?
ANN: Sy Raboy, whom I mentioned earlier, had retired from Sun Life in the early 2000’s and was asked to join the BF&M Board in 2006 at the suggestion of the General Manager of BF&M’s offshore business. When I retired from Sun Life, Sy suggested to the Chief Executive of BF&M that he hire me as a consultant to review its offshore business which was struggling. So within a month of my retirement from Sun Life, I was on a plane to Hong Kong and on to Singapore to get an inside look at the business. This led to my recommendation to BF&M’s President & CEO, John Wight, to bring you on board because of your credibility in the Asian private banking community.
A year later, Sy retired from the BF&M Board, and he suggested I succeed him to ensure continuity of knowledge on the Board about the offshore business. I continued in that role until 2015 when we determined BF&M would sell its offshore business and, simultaneously, my three-year term on the Board was expiring and I ‘aged out’ under the By-laws.
JAY: You know I almost always have a diversity and inclusion question. Back in the day, it did not go unnoticed that many insurance companies, including Sun Life, would insert a male actuary to take control of a growing business area and many of those areas were already being successfully run by women. I know you’ve experienced this. How did the roles of women in leadership change during your career?
ANN: They changed very substantially. When I began at HBS, I was the only professional woman on the staff of the Office of External Affairs. If I needed to meet with a man for lunch at the Faculty Club, I had to go up a back stairway and we ate in the ‘mixed’ dining room. As I moved on to a role that required substantial travel to meet with senior executives in companies, universities, and government agencies, I was in situations where meetings in clubs had to be moved from the main dining room to a private dining room because I was a member of the group.
While things changed very substantially over the many years I worked, I can report that even today in a group with many men, as well as other women, ideas posited by women are often ‘not heard’ until a male subsequently proposes essentially the same idea.
JAY: I’m going to stick to this topic for just a second. A couple of months ago, I interviewed Janice Forgays of PRW Wealth Management and she shared the story of going to speak at private clubs which didn’t allow women members and where there were not restroom facilities for women. You have a similar story about a business trip you made to New York City where all you wanted to do was to get a little exercise. I know our younger readers are going to be astonished to hear this tale.
ANN: I’m a member of the University Club in Boston. We have reciprocal privileges with many other clubs, so I often took advantage of that to stay at the New York Athletic Club. The first time I did that, I took my tank suit so I could swim to work out…..until I was apprised the men swam naked! No women allowed! That was a loooong time ago, I think in the mid-‘80s.
JAY: You are busier in retirement than most people are when working. You are involved with several non-profits for the arts, have traveled the world and regularly workout at the University Club of Boston. Incidentally, in the gym, you lift heavier weights than I see those in their 20s lift! Fill us in on your life in retirement.
ANN: Love it! I could never see my way to volunteer work or serving on a board when I was working full-time. Now I’m on the boards of the New England Philharmonic and SpeakEasy Theatre Company, and involved in committee work on both those boards. I’m a member of an advisory group to the Boston Planning and Development Agency and a member of the Boston Common Committee of the Friends of the Public Garden. And I try to workout most days of the week, so I’m busy…..and all that has been a godsend during the pandemic. I’ve never been bored or depressed because I’m too busy and engaged everyday.
JAY: When we first met in the 90s and I was working for a competing offshore life insurance carrier and living in Columbus, Ohio, I would have never guessed I would end up working with you and living just over a mile away from you in Boston for what now has been about two decades! I’m always happy when you can fit me into your busy schedule for a couple of cocktails.
We’ve come to my restaurant question which, by the way, is surprisingly popular and generates a lot of discussion. I always ask our interviewees to steer clear of steakhouses and steak dishes since we experience enough of that in our industry. In thinking about your global travels and Boston, what are a few of your favorite restaurants and what can I not pass up ordering when there?
ANN: I love Asian food but it’s hard to get groups together to go to Peach Farm to order their many delicacies. It is no secret that I love Picco in the South End where their ravioli is to die for — they even had rhubarb ravioli at lunch one Spring day a few years ago! And I love lobster at any shack by the ocean’s edge in Maine.
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Since its inception, Life Insurance Strategies Group has solely focused on the individual high net worth life insurance market. We do not sell products. This allows us to offer unbiased, pragmatic advice. Visit us at www.lifeinsurancestrategiesgroup.com.