From its start in 1925 as the Ohio Farm Bureau Mutual Auto Insurance Company, the Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company has grown into one of the leading insurance and financial firms in the world, with over $160 billion in assets. Nationwide sells automobile, motorcycle, boat, homeowners, life and commercial insurance; annuities, mutual funds, pension, health and long-term savings plans; and provides mortgage, administrative and productivity services. As of 2008, it was ranked the fourth-largest provider of personal lines insurance in the U.S. It has 36,000 employees in the United States and appears as #104 on the FORTUNE 500 list of America’s largest companies. “Nationwide is on your side” is among the most familiar corporate advertising slogans.
The company began by selling its auto policies only to Ohio farmers, quickly acquiring 1,000 policyholders. It expanded to five more states by 1928, moved into small towns three years later, then to large cities by 1934. By 1965, it was operating in 32 states and the District of Columbia.
Nationwide annuities include both Fixed and Variable products. Its five Fixed annuity products include four single-premium annuities and one flexible-premium annuity. Its fourteen Variable annuity products include thirteen deferred variable annuities and one immediate variable annuity. In 2006, the company made asset-allocation services available to holders of four of its variable annuities.
Nationwide’s annuities are issued by the Nationwide Life Insurance Co. and the Nationwide Life and Annuity Insurance Co. Their financial strength ratings are A+ (2nd best) by A. M. Best, A+ (5th best) by Standard & Poor’s, Aa3 (4th best) by Moody’s and A+ (5th best) by Fitch.
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On 01/02/2009, Fitch announced a downgrade in the financial-strength rating, from AA- to A+, for Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. and its subsidiaries. In addition, the outlook designation was changed from “stable” to “negative.” The outlook designation refers to the agency’s expectation of the company’s near-term financial performance and the likelihood of future rating downgrades. Fitch was particularly influenced by Nationwide Mutual’s internal buyout of its life-insurance subsidiary, Nationwide Financial Services, which Fitch felt weakened the company’s overall capital position and reduced its access to external capital markets. Fitch was also influenced by the same national and industry economic factors that have led to rating downgrades for many life-insurance companies in 2009. The stock-market declines beginning in the fall of 2008 weakened the financial position of companies offering variable annuities, since those companies had to bolster reserves held to underwrite guarantees embodied in those products. These factors offset the company’s continuing strengths – its diverse and competitively-successful financial-product offerings and its conservative investment strategy – to produce the downgrade.
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