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CEO: Conseco's name no longer says insurance

March 25, 2010

Conseco Inc. CEO Jim Prieur says it's time to change the company's 27-year-old name partly because it's become better associated with a sports facility than with the insurer's products.

Carmel-based Conseco will ask shareholders in May to approve changing the company’s name to CNO Financial Group, the company said Thursday morning.

“Conseco is sort of a funny name anyway,” said Prieur in an interview with IBJ on Thursday morning.

“People always ask, ‘What is a Conseco?’ or they say, ‘Is it the baseball player company?’” Prieur said, referring to Jose Canseco, a former slugger for the Oakland Athletics and other major league baseball teams.

If shareholders agree, the company wants to move fairly quickly to change the name of Conseco Fieldhouse, the basketball arena in Indianapolis where the Indiana Pacers and Indiana Fever play. Conseco is in the 11th year of a 20-year, $40 million deal for the arena's naming rights.

Conseco spokesman Tony Zehnder said the company has begun talks with Pacers Sports & Entertainment about the name change. He said there’s no firm timetable for a change, but he added, “ I assume we would probably try to resolve this within the year.”

Shareholders will be asked to vote on the name change at the annual meeting on May 11. CNO is the company's stock symbol.

The name Conseco was an amalgamation of the first two insurance companies acquired by Conseco co-founder Stephen Hilbert. One was named Security National Life Co. and the other was called Consolidated National Life Insurance Co. The name was adopted in 1983 and used as Hilbert bought a raft of life and health insurance companies and merged them on a Carmel corporate campus.

In the late 1990s, Conseco made a catchy series of television ads using the Conseco name and the tagline “Step Up.” But the name was tarnished when the company went through a bankruptcy reorganization in 2003.

In the past two years, Conseco has phased out selling new policies under the Conseco brand. The companies based in Carmel operate almost exclusively now under the name Washington National, the name of a company Conseco acquired in 1997.

At the same time, Conseco’s best-known and best-performing units are its Bankers Life & Casualty subsidiary in Chicago and its Colonial Penn unit in Philadelphia.

Since Prieur became CEO in 2006, he has noticed that Conseco’s name is poorly known—at least as an insurance company.

“I can’t tell you how many people in Indy you meet who think that if you work at Conseco, you work at the Fieldhouse,” Prieur said. “They don’t even identify it as an insurance company.”

Prieur also seemed to want to make a change to mark the significant changes in the company’s business recently.

In the last year alone, Conseco survived a cash crunch and has since sold hundreds of millions in new stock and cleared away huge debt payments that were due this year. Last month, the company reported its fourth consecutive quarterly profit.

“We've recapitalized the company to reduce debt, increase liquidity and equity capital, provide more flexibility to ride out economic storms, and enhance our ability to grow profitably,” Prieur said in a prepared statement issued earlier on Thursday.

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