Athene Annuity traces its roots to 1905 and the founding of The Southeastern Life Insurance Company in Spartanburg, South Carolina. With a focus on ordinary life insurance along with relatively new products like group insurance and decreasing term mortgage life insurance, The Southeastern attracted bright young agents who sold mainly to customers in the middle and upper incomes. But one of those agents, a young man named William Franklin Hipp, had different ideas.
Hipp saw untapped potential in the growing working-class population that accompanied the rise of the textile industry. He believed the needs of this market would best be met by weekly premium policies sold in the mill villages by agents working a territorial system, or debit.
After securing $100,000 in capital in neighboring Greenville, Hipp formed The Liberty Life Insurance Company in 1919. His entrepreneurial instincts were rewarded by strong demand for his products, as his agents sold $1.7 million in premium in the company’s first year of operation.
Hipp’s experience at The Southeastern had taught him that the keys to stability and long-term success lay in conservative management and continuous innovation. Responding to the complex record-keeping problems that plagued the debit business, The Liberty Life pioneered a new collection system that streamlined bookkeeping. It allowed agents to focus on selling while speeding up claims processing and reducing overhead at the home office. In 1926, when the Liberty Life had $6 million of insurance in force, the home office was staffed by a team of seven.
More evidence of his business acumen surfaced in 1930 when Hipp, believing radio stations could be run at break-even and raise the public profile of his life insurance business, purchased WIS radio in Columbia, South Carolina. The broadcasting operations flourished, and twenty years later a separate company, the Broadcasting Company of the South, was formed to manage Liberty’s expanding portfolio of radio and television interests.
In 1941 The Liberty Life merged with The Southeastern to form Liberty Life Insurance Company, ushering in a period of growth that established Liberty as South Carolina’s largest locally domiciled life insurance company. Investment by Liberty Life was instrumental to the development of South Carolina’s industrial economy after the Second World War.
In 1959 Liberty Life became one of only 6 percent of U.S. life insurance companies to reach $1 billion of insurance in force. Also that year it installed a mainframe computer system that was one of the first of its kind in South Carolina. The system cut the time it took to process 1,000 weekly premium transactions from several hours to a few minutes.
Liberty adopted a holding company structure in 1967 and two years later The Liberty Corporation became one of the first four South Carolina companies to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Less than two decades later Liberty Life reached $10 billion of insurance in force. Expanding through a combination of organic growth and strategic acquisition, it built a significant presence in the Southeast with a top five market share in South Carolina and strong positions in North Carolina and Louisiana. It also developed a national independent sales organization. In stark contrast with the weekly premium company envisioned by W. Frank Hipp, universal life insurance now accounted for a majority of sales.
In 2000 Liberty Life and Liberty Insurance Services Corporation, Liberty Corporation’s third-party insurance administration business, were acquired by Royal Bank of Canada and became the headquarters of RBC’s U.S. insurance operations.
Maintaining the spirit of market innovation that had begun with its founder, in 2003 the company rolled out RBC ExpressTERM, one of the first simplified issue term products to be sold entirely over the Internet. That year it also acquired Business Men’s Assurance Company of America, a Kansas City-based insurer with similar traditions and a growing annuity business. Combined, the two companies had over $4 billion in assets and $32 billion of insurance in force.
In 2004, Liberty Life joined a select group of insurance companies to maintain an A.M. Best rating of “A” or better for 50 consecutive years. It merged with BMA two years later, and achieved a top ten ranking in fixed annuity sales in 2009.
Liberty Life was acquired by Athene Holding Ltd. in 2011 to become the platform for Athene’s U.S. annuity sales and reinsurance operations. That same year, Investors Insurance Corporation, a Delaware domiciled fixed annuity carrier, was acquired as a Liberty subsidiary.
In 2012 Liberty was renamed Athene Annuity & Life Assurance Company and acquired Presidential Life Insurance Company, a New York company. With the acquisition Athene Annuity gained, for the first time, a presence in all 50 states. In December 2012 Athene Holding announced it would acquire the U.S. life insurance and annuity operations of Aviva plc, a move that would make Athene the number two provider of fixed index annuities in the United States.
Material for this profile was drawn from The Liberty Spirit (History of the Liberty Corporation) by Doyle H. Boggs, published in 1982 by The Liberty Corporation.