How Insurance Companies Created a Peculiar Investment Talent Crunch

Consultants and asset managers are beefing up their insurance groups to cater to the allocators’ increasingly complex portfolios — or at least they’re trying to.


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Convincing Nancy Mueller Handal, head of private fixed income and alternatives at MetLife Investment Management, to leave the insurer after 23 years was a huge win for Bayview Asset Management.

The investment management firm on Monday announced that it had hired her to be the chief investment officer of its new insurance-focused unit.

“I feel privileged to have the opportunity to partner with Nancy, whom I have long admired as a leader in residential loan and structured products investing,” Bayview CEO David Ertel said in a statement. “Nancy is a one-of-a-kind executive, in the unique position of being one of the industry’s most thoughtful mortgage whole loan investors while having the insurance industry perspective of a senior executive. She is perfectly positioned to lead this natural extension of the Bayview business.”

One might expect high praise for a new colleague from the person who hired them — but as more firms seek to hire investment professionals who have experience working with insurance companies and certain asset classes, individuals like Mueller Handal are in high demand.

For 15 years, low interest rates frustrated insurance companies — which have the bulk of their reserve assets in investment grade fixed income — but rapidly rising rates have been challenging for them to navigate, said Chris Tschida, co-Head of U.S. insurance at Mercer, the investment consultant to 3,900 clients and more than $17 trillion in assets. Insurers have a lot to consider now, including whether to reduce their equity beta volatility in favor of higher yielding fixed income securities, if they should realize some fixed income losses and quickly reinvesting again, and how they can boost income.

They are also still interested in private markets, especially income-oriented strategies like the many genres of private credit. Direct lending was always the main attraction for insurers, but now they want to broaden their exposure to other subcategories, such as specialty finance and asset-backed credit opportunities. (Today, most insurance companies invest little in whole residential mortgages, generally allocating just 1 percent of their portfolio to the loans. But some outliers have emerged.)

“That increased complexity means investment advisors and asset managers are looking to capitalize on that large asset pool and the needs and demands of insurance companies going forward,” Tschida said.

But consultants and asset managers are struggling to expand their insurance groups. “I think what we have noticed, candidly, is there’s more competition for talent, for folks that know and understand the insurance segment,” Tschida said. “We’re fortunate, we’ve been adding people over the last few years and still have two or three more outstanding job openings that are related to our insurance practice.”

Mercer has been on the losing side of the talent competition, too. Greg Halagan, another co-head of U.S. insurance, left the consultant in May to lead the insurance unit at Oaktree Capital Management.

At Mercer, the insurance group has been expanding so that it can work with more insurance companies, and offer more dedicated solutions that “the insurance marketplace kind of clamoring for,” Tschida added.

Like other institutional investors,insurance companies are increasingly interested in outsourcing some or part of the investment management process. So Mercer has hired people in its outsourced chief investment office group to take over implementation for more insurers, allowing the companies to focus on the strategic asset allocation decisions and other things. Those services are especially valuable to medium- and small-size insurers with fewer investment resources.

“Many insurers recognize the value in outsourcing asset classes, particularly where they lack scale or expertise so that they can focus more on their core operating activities,” Mueller Handal said.

“Asset managers are beginning to focus their efforts on partnering with insurers as opposed to just offering them investment products,” she added. “In addition to sourcing and investment expertise, asset managers are evolving to become partners in guiding their clients via advisory, reporting and accounting solutions. Insurers want to in-source their asset manager’s expertise and collaborate to optimally allocate across a diverse set of assets and accurately price liabilities.”