Whittling Down: In 2023, Cuna Mutual Group Prepares to Rebrand and Focus on Middle Market
“We have to get this right,” Chief Executive Officer Robert Trunzo says as the carrier, with its origins in the credit union space, plans to bring a diverse set of brands under one roof.
- Terrence Dopp
- October 2022
- Rebranding: In early 2023, Cuna Mutual Group will shift nearly a dozen brands into the TruStage portfolio in an effort to streamline and simplify.
- Market: TruStage will focus on the so-called middle market— middle- and working-class people in the market for protection products with modest face amounts—that Cuna Mutual has served under various monikers since 1935.
- Uncertainty: Like other insurers, the company is bracing for economic risk in late 2022 and early 2023, a pain the company said could be felt acutely by the people it’s serving.
Life insurers spent years chasing the whales: high net worth individuals who could shoulder large policies and might just be in the market for a host of ancillary financial and protection products.
But not Robert Trunzo, president and chief executive of Cuna Mutual Group. As he tells it, the company's bread and butter lies in what he refers to as “hardworking Americans,” defined roughly as people earning between $40,000 and $120,000 annually.
The company is in the midst of a rebranding that he says will bring products now sold under many banners into one entity renamed TruStage after an existing product line. That trademark of the Cuna Mutual portfolio currently offers digitally issued policies with a limited face value under its umbrella.
And along the way those folks will be the linchpin of the strategy. Trunzo likes to point out that isn't a new segment for the company, just a refinement in the way they reach it.
“We have no desire to move up, up, up market,” he said. “We're quite comfortable serving the hardworking Americans and we've had great success doing that.”
Trunzo took over as the eighth president and chief executive officer of Cuna Mutual in 2014 after joining in 2005 and progressing through roles that included chief operating officer and executive vice president of sales and marketing.
The phrase “hardworking Americans” comes up often as Trunzo discusses the efforts and those people the TruStage shift is intended to target. Part euphemism and part marketing, it's the term the company prefers to signify the demographic it seeks to reach and looks to create a bond with.
“We have no desire to move up, up, up market. We’re quite comfortable serving the hardworking Americans and we’ve had great success doing that.”
Cuna Mutual Group
The various underwriting entities of Cuna Mutual are in a strong place: AM Best assigns a Financial Strength Rating of A (Excellent) or A- (Excellent) to nearly all of their properties with the exception of the Union Security Insurance Co., which has a rating of B++ (Good).
The rebranding is scheduled to begin in early 2023. Every enterprise, business-to-business and consumer brand under which any Cuna Mutual products are sold will be brought under the TruStage name. In addition to transitioning the consumer-facing products and brands, the company's website, digital marketing materials and collateral all will be rebranded as well.
Trunzo said the decision had been “three or four years” in the making and is a collaborative decision among the company's board. While he'd previously pushed for tucking the entire company under the TruStage identity, timing was always the major issue. With TruStage seeing double-digit growth on an ongoing basis, the time came for the move, he said.
“The rebranding really allows us to, I think, position TruStage as the preeminent financial services and insurance company to serve hardworking Americans,” he said. “It's a march we've been on since 2014 and it's a march we're on every day.”
Looking out over the coming year, he said the challenge will be threefold.
First will be economic, with the U.S. economy and the potential for recession and understanding how that could impact the very people the rechristened TruStage will serve. The second challenge will be managing the brand launch as it unfolds. Third, Cuna Mutual has given its workforce of about 4,200 employees the flexibility to work in-person or remotely, and Trunzo said managing this changing workforce will be an evolving process.
TruStage, the new name under which Cuna Mutual will operate, isn't a new identity for the nearly 90-year-old outfit. The company, based in Madison, Wisconsin, was founded as Cuna Mutual Society in 1935 with a focus on moving insurance protection to credit union members who had outstanding loan balances.
After World War II, Cuna Mutual Group grew and expanded its offering of services. It launched its Member Direct Program, a direct marketing program for individual life and health insurance, in 1983. As that program matured, the company added homeowners insurance, accidental death and dismemberment and auto coverage in a package that today is known as the TruStage Insurance Program.
As Trunzo tells it, the move will streamline the focus on the middle market and allow TruStage to become closer to a one-stop outlet for protection and financial products for a population that doesn't have the boutique banking and advisers of the high-wealth set. Trunzo said no one is impacted more by the economy than Middle Americans who sometimes live paycheck to paycheck. “The uncertainty, the impacts of inflation. That is a big market segment that we serve quite successfully,” he said.
While credit unions were the initial market for the TruStage products, the focus today has shifted beyond the institutions. Trunzo in fact calls them the “lifeblood” of the company. When he stepped into his present role coming out of the sales department, the institutions accounted for about 95% of revenue, he said. That balance is now 60%-40% credit union to non-credit union following a campaign to grow outside of that space while maintaining it as a focus.
“It made sense for us to leverage that consumer brand which is doing so well and we're comfortable with that, and also throw down some brand attributes about who we are for hardworking Americans.”
According to a Cuna Mutual press release, 2021 was a record year for the company, with $5 billion in revenue, $622 million of net income and $36.7 billion in assets under management. “I can remember back in 2014 when I started, I think we had $10 billion or $11 billion in AUM,” he said.
It was also a year marked by headline risk across all sectors of the economy in which Cuna Mutual paid out $1.8 billion in benefits to customers and beneficiaries—including $76.6 million in COVID-related claims. The corporate foundation also gave out more than $7.9 million to nonprofits working on economic stability, education and emergency aid.
According to Trunzo, the company has also seen “significant growth” in annuities products tailored to its target audience, with almost $2 billion in deposits last year alone. Its geographic footprint stretches across the United States, with about 95% of credit unions in the country offering at least one of their products and additional business segments in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean.
To further its reach in that market, in 2021 Cuna Mutual completed a deal to acquire Assurant's prearranged funeral insurance and final expense business in the United States and Canada for about $1.3 billion. The deal brought more than 2 million customers into Cuna Mutual's fold and grew its middle-market presence.
“It was a check-the-box acquisition for us,” Trunzo said. “We were familiar with Assurant, we have a long-standing business relationship with Assurant on other products we market to credit unions and Assurant is the underwriter for us.”
The company had its eyes on the Assurant business for about five years prior to the transaction, Trunzo said. Cuna Mutual has also proven its ability to successfully engage in partnerships that include Liberty Mutual and the Navy Federal Credit Union, down to more local church and fraternal institutions.
The company's status as a mutual organization in which policyholders technically each own a small piece will not change as part of the shift, Trunzo said. The structure stands in contrast to public companies, which are required to issue quarterly financial reports and focus on operations three months at a time.
“The mutual status for us is very important because we're born out of that community, obviously, with credit unions,” he said. “We're a mutual company with strong public company principles. So we want to throw up good numbers because that allows us to invest back in the company.”
Cuna Mutual's focus won't shift with the rebranding, Trunzo said. What will change is that having one corporate entity will simplify the process for both policyholders and the organization, he said.
“What we're trying to do is serve Middle Americans—hardworking Americans—in every segment of their life,” Trunzo said. “We're trying to take them from A to Z—a life insurance policy when they're younger. They might want to protect a loan as they get a little older in case something happens to them. If they accumulate some wealth we want to help them and be on the back end to make sure they preserve that wealth and use that wealth appropriately.”
The company “has to get this right,” Trunzo said.
Any rebranding is a massive internal project involving every sector of a company from operations to legal, marketing, the investment ledger and employees themselves, Trunzo said. When the name switches over early next year, it will be the culmination of two years of work done in several phases, Trunzo said.
“At the end of the day, this unites all of our diverse brands into one powerful brand,” he said. “It is a massive effort.”