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The Hartford CEO: More work needed before insurers make good on $50M pledge

BY Greg Bordonaro

1/5/2018
Matt Pilon
Matt Pilon
The Hartford CEO and Chairman Chris Swift (right) talking to CBIA CEO Joe Brennan (left).
The CEO and Chairman of The Hartford said Friday that his company and two other Hartford insurers are still committed to investing $50 million in the city over five years if policymakers develop a stable and sustainable fiscal climate, but there is still more work to be done before that happens.

"Since we made that commitment it's been a little bit of a roller-coaster," said The Hartford's top executive Chris Swift, who was speaking to a crowd at the Hartford Marriott as part of the Connecticut Business & Industry Association's annual economic forecast event.

The Hartford, Travelers Cos. and Aetna pledged in 2017 to invest $50 million in the city of Hartford if city leaders made long-term changes to put the city, which has faced chronic deficits for years and overbearing debt, on a more stable and sustainable fiscal path.

Swift said he's optimistic with some recent changes, including a newly passed state budget that allocated more money to the city and also created a municipal oversight board to help financially struggling municipalities deal with debt and other financial issues.

The Hartford City Council in December authorized Mayor Luke Bronin to apply for assistance through the Municipal Accountability Review Board.

Swift said the new state budget looks promising for the city, but many questions remain including how firm the commitment will be, including a pledge from the state to potentially absorb some of the city's debt.

"Pieces are beginning to fall in place," Swift said. But he said the $50 million won't be invested until Mayor Luke Bronin assures the insurers the city is on a stable fiscal path, which hasn't happened yet.

Swift also raised concerns about the city filing for bankruptcy, saying it will cause reputational damage and scarring. He said many people don't fully understand the negative consequences of a bankruptcy and the fact it won't solve all the city's problems, including the need for economic growth.

Other insights

Swift gave the keynote address at CBIA's event in which he talked about The Hartford's evolution in recent years following major financial losses suffered during the 2008-2009 financial crisis.

He said The Hartford has moved away from certain product lines, like variable annuities, into a more simplified property and casualty insurer that also has group benefits and mutual fund businesses.

"The financial crisis did take a toll on our company," Swift said.

He mentioned several acquisitions The Hartford has made in recent years including the recent purchase of Aetna's U.S. group life and disability business for $1.45 billion. The deal added 1,900 employees to The Hartford's workforce, which totals around 7,000 in Connecticut, and 19,000 worldwide.

He also talked about The Hartford's investment in technology, which he said will continue to transform all industries, particularly insurance.

In terms of company strategy, Swift said The Hartford is in acquisition mode as he predicts consolidation will continue to impact the industry.

He also said the company is focused on doing business with more people in different industries.

Competing for talent

Another major focus for The Hartford is talent retention and development, Swift said. He said it's imperative The Hartford and other insurers recruit Millennials as the industry sheds 70,000 jobs annually due to the country's aging workforce.

He said The Hartford has done a lot of research into what Millennials desire in an employer, including a flexible work environment, leadership development opportunities, a chance to do meaningful and important work and a company that has a purpose beyond just making profits.

He said The Hartford has focused on internships and apprenticeships to recruit younger workers.