Christopher Swift
Christopher Swift

The Hartford Chairman and CEO Christopher Swift said that M&A is one of many possible options for the property/casualty insurer as it looks at ways to accelerate growth in the months ahead.

“We worked hard to put ourselves in the position to think a bit more offensively-minded about M&A. We do talk about it more. But I want to make sure investors don’t think its everything we think about,” Swift said during a Q&A at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2016 Insurance Conference on Feb. 10.

Possible acquisition targets are “one of the many things we think about every day on how to accelerate the pace of our change as a … deeper risk player here in the U.S. marketplace,” Swift explained. “We do think about it, but we also weigh it against organic plans to grow; organic plans to add new products and capabilities. We can hire talent in the marketplace in areas where we need it. It is that balance that we go through, but we are active in understanding what is, at least, available in the marketplace.”

Swift added that his executive team has always looked at M&A as an action that must meet rigorous benchmarks.

“We have always said that any M&A, particularly in this environment, needs to be both strategic and financially make sense.”

Swift spoke of The Hartford’s “strategic and financial transformation” reaching its peak in 2015, asserting that its years-long restructuring has helped improve its businesses through implementation of “underwriting actions, pricing actions and investments in our capabilities.”

He said there were two areas where he wished The Hartford could quicken the pace of change.

Swift said, for example, that if he could, he would speed the pace of The Hartford’s U.S. geographic expansion. Another area that he’s pursue faster: the carrier’s ongoing update of its legacy IT systems.

“Some of those systems are 30, 35 or 40 years old,” he said, noting that they served their purpose and the time has come to embrace a more digital-oriented platform.

“That sounds easy on the surface, but the tedious, detailed work of unhooking and connecting new things to your operating environment takes a great deal of time, patience, and quality assurance,” Swift said. “You want to get it right so you don’t disrupt any customer service.”

Swift said that The Hartford has made progress, but the insurer is far from finished as far as modernizing its IT systems.

“We probably have at least three more years of hard work ahead of us,” Swift added.

Earlier in February, The Hartford reported more than $421 million in net income for the 2015 fourth quarter, or $1.01 per diluted share, compared to $382 million, or $0.86 per diluted share in the 2014 fourth quarter. Earnings increased in its P/C arm, but dipped in Group Benefits and Mutual Funds. Net income for the year surpassed $1.68 billion, or $3.96 per diluted share, compared to $798 million, or $1.73 per diluted share in 2014.

For the 2015 fourth quarter, The Hartford’s personal lines combined ratio hit 95.3, versus 93.8 in the 2014 fourth quarter. The insurer’s commercial lines combined ratio landed at 88.1, compared to 92.4 over the same period in 2014.

Through the 2015 calendar year, The Hartford achieved a commercial lines combined ratio of 90 and a personal lines combined ratio of 92.