Even those who were unfamiliar with economic news probably came into contact with Aegon from the 1980s. Until 2009, the insurer invariably appeared in the sports world every winter. The name dominated the billboards around the tracks at World Cup races and championships for years. And as a sponsor of the KNSB skating association, Aegon was also on the suits of the Dutch team. When you thought of Gianni Romme, Yvonne van Gennip or Ids Postma, you thought of Aegon.
There is a good chance that in about ten years that name will sound familiar to far fewer Dutch people. Insurer ASR announced on Thursday that it would take over the Dutch branch of its peer. Although Aegon’s headquarters will remain in The Hague, the name will become less prominent here.
After the merger, ASR plans to use the Aegon brand for pensions and mortgages for another three years. Aegon will remain active in the Netherlands as an asset manager. Brand names of Aegon parts such as Knab and Nedasco will not change.
ASR pays 4.9 billion euros for the acquired insurance, banking and mortgage activities; 2.5 billion in cash, the rest in shares. Aegon thus acquires an interest of almost 30 percent in ASR. This insurer, with its head office in Utrecht, is mainly active in the Netherlands. Several regulators still have to agree to the proposed sale.
The combination creates the second largest insurer in the Netherlands, behind NN Group, which has 251 billion euros on its balance sheet. ASR has a balance sheet total of 75 billion euros. It has not been announced what will come from Aegon. Aegon now has total assets of EUR 107.4 billion worldwide.
According to Aegon CEO Lard Friese, the new insurer will have “an enormously strong market position”. He will soon become a supervisory director of the combination. “We are the market leader in the field of disability insurance, third in the Netherlands in non-life insurance and second in pensions and life insurance.”
ASR CEO Jos Baeten calls the takeover “a very logical one”. He cites the pension market as an example. “Whereas Aegon has a strong position in the large corporate pension business, we are big among medium-sized and small employers. Aegon is very good at administrative services for pension funds, we don’t have that. This gives you a range of services to serve the entire pension world.”
Friese and he have known each other for thirty years. Baeten: “Then you meet each other and you sometimes talk about the future of the sector. We seem to have quite the same thoughts about this. A few months ago, we started serious discussions about this acquisition.”
The new company will soon employ 6,700 people, although the merger is expected to cost jobs. ASR hopes to realize 185 million euros in cost savings, partly by eliminating double functions. It is not yet known how many jobs are involved. The Utrecht insurer assumes that part of the job reduction will take place through natural attrition.
In addition, ASR hopes to save on IT systems. Baeten: „Soon you will have two for the non-life business, two for our disability insurance branch, etcetera. It all has to come to one system.”
The announcement of the acquisition came as a surprise on Thursday. Lard Friese announced a major strategy change in 2020 just after joining Aegon. The company, he said, was active in too many countries and needed to concentrate its efforts. He emphatically pointed to the Netherlands as one of the core markets, with the US, the United Kingdom, China, Spain/Portugal and Brazil.
Read more about Aegon CEO Lars Friese’s new plans for 2020 here: ‘Employees knew the performance was not good’
“Today we made a clear choice on which countries we are going to focus on, to increase the chance of success of our plans,” CEO Lard Friese told NRC at the time. This renewed focus was necessary because Aegon had been ailing for years.
Since then, the group has withdrawn from less profitable areas. For example, activities in Turkey and Poland were sold. The strings were also pulled at the large American subsidiary Transamerica. From then on, important decisions had to pass through the head office in The Hague. The Transamerica office in San Francisco was sold for 650 million euros.
Despite the latest sale, the Netherlands remains an important market for Aegon, says Friese. After all, the asset management activities will remain with Aegon, and he expects to expand there. The 30 percent interest in ASR also counts. “Our services will continue in the future, but under a different name. We combine a lot of knowledge that is now held by two companies.”
Aegon will use 1.5 billion euros of the acquisition price for share buybacks. The group also wants to pay off debts and invest, including in the United States – one of the largest growth markets, according to Friese. “Transamerica is a very important player. We now have the financial opportunities to continue these growth plans.”
Friese will remain Aegon’s top executive, and will add the supervisory directorship at ASR to his remarkable track through Dutch insurers. In 2014, he joined the spun off insurance branch of bank insurer ING and thus took charge of NN Group. Aegon bought him away from there in May 2020 to put things in order in their own house.
ASR and Aegon both have a long history in the Netherlands. ASR, with its legal predecessor Maatschappij ter Discountentering and the Belening der Stad Rotterdam dating from 1720, is one of the oldest insurers in the world. The current company, Amersfoortse Stad Rotterdam, was established in 1997 by merging several insurance companies.
At the beginning of this century, ASR was part of Fortis for a short time. After the Dutch parts of that bank were nationalized in the credit crisis of 2008, ASR came into state hands. In 2016, the Dutch government listed the insurer on the stock exchange and sold its stake in phases. That process was completed in September 2017.
Aegon was created in 1983 from a merger of AGO and Ennia. The oldest legal predecessor of Aegon is De Broederlijke Liefdesbeurs from 1759. Aegon was the largest Dutch insurer around the turn of the century. In the late 1990s, it bought the American companies Providian and Transamerica for billions of guilders. At the time, they were mega takeovers by Dutch standards.