Naming In The News

Aviva builds U.S. image after AmerUs buyout

The London-based insurer is fifth-largest in the world and will offer the 'same great products, same great people' as D.M.-based AmerUs.

By S.P. Dinnen - Register Business Writer
December 15, 2006
Aviva PLC executives
DAVID PETERSON / THE REGISTER
Philip Scott, right, executive director for international operations of Aviva PLC, a London-based insurer that recently purchased AmerUs, visits in Des Moines with Thomas Godlasky, chief executive of U.S. operations.

Philip Scott is an avid sailor in his native England, but it's his business skippering skills that will be tested in coming months as he tries to fashion one of the world's biggest financial services companies into a household name in the United States.

Aviva PLC, where Scott is group executive director for international operations, is the fifth-largest insurer in the world. But the London-based company is hardly known in the United States because until last month it had only a minimal presence in this country.

In November, Aviva finished its $3.8 billion buyout of Des Moines-based AmerUs Group Co. AmerUs is a leading seller of equity-indexed annuities and indexed life insurance policies, but those niche products have yet to give it wide-level recognition.

But AmerUs has built a substantial sales network and is licensed to operate in all 50 states. So it has plenty of potential to grow as Scott and Thomas Godlasky, who was chairman of AmerUs and is president and chief executive officer of Aviva's U.S. operations, make the switch from an Iowa-run company to an American branch of a global financial giant. Eventually, everything that AmerUs sells will be rebranded as an Aviva product.

Business naming expert William Lozito believes the company can pull off the transition if it doesn't hurry and lets customers - both existing and potential - know that as AmerUs transitions to Aviva, "it's the same great products, the same great people."

"You have to create an awareness for that name," said Lozito, president of Strategic Name Development Co. in Minneapolis.

Particularly when financial products are involved, Lozito said buyers want to get the sense that they're buying from a known entity.

They may also want to buy from companies that have a lot of financial clout, and on that point Scott and Godlasky said Aviva is well set, with assets under management of more than $500 billion. Principal Financial Group Inc., the Des Moines-based insurance and financial services company, manages about $210 billion in assets.

Philip Durbrow, chairman of San Francisco-based Marshall Strategy Inc., helped Principal Financial transform to its new identity in 1985 from The Bankers Life. He said it's important to give employees a sense of pride in the new name and then let clients know that their policies are secure.

"Once you have your employees and customers on board, then you can search out new customers," Durbrow said.

Neither Scott nor Godlasky provided specifics on how the young company will capitalize on the Aviva name. Scott hinted sports could play a role.

Aviva is a sponsor of tennis championships in Australia and India, and Scott said some sort of similar arrangement could be used to raise its American profile.

Copyright © 2006, The Des Moines Register.