Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Company was founded in Newark, New Jersey in 1845. It was one of the first life insurance companies in the United States. Frederick Frelinghuysen first led the company, which some called “the Tiffany of insurance companies”. This was because Mutual Benefit catered to upper class clientele in its early days.
Mutual Benefit was a mutual company, which means that it was owned by its policyholders. The company was managed by a board of directors that was elected by the policyholders. It offered a variety of life insurance products, including term life insurance, whole life insurance, and universal life insurance. The company also offered a variety of annuity products.
In addition to being among the nation’s oldest, Mutual Benefit was financially sound for most of its history. However, the company ran into financial difficulties in the 1980s. The company’s investment portfolio was damaged by the stock market crash of 1987. This sudden crash exposed its extensive investments in high-risk “junk bonds”.
Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Company was placed in receivership by the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance in 1991. The company was subsequently liquidated and its assets were sold to other insurance companies. Some policyholders received reduced benefits as a result.
Missing the Cover-Up
The decline of Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Company was not sudden. The company had been experiencing financial problems for several years prior to its collapse. However, the company was able to hide its financial problems from regulators and policyholders. As a result, the decline of the company was not fully appreciated until it was too late.
There are a number of reasons why the regulating agencies were unable to head off the decline of Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Company in advance. One reason is that the company was very good at hiding its financial problems. The company’s management team was able to mislead regulators and policyholders about the company’s true financial condition.
Another reason is that the regulatory system in the United States was not as strong in the 1980s as it is today. The regulatory agencies were not as well-funded or as well-staffed as they are today. As a result, they were not able to effectively monitor the activities of life insurance companies.
Justice for Some
Several officials at Mutual Benefit Life were prosecuted for their roles in the company’s collapse. In 1993, former CEO Robert A. Cizik was convicted of fraud and conspiracy and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Former chairman and president Joseph J. Brennan was convicted of fraud and conspiracy and sentenced to 7 years in prison. Former chief financial officer John J. Scanlon was convicted of fraud and conspiracy and sentenced to 6 years in prison.
The prosecution of these officials was a major victory for regulators and policyholders. It sent a message that those who engage in fraudulent activity will be held accountable. However, it is important to note that these officials were only a few of the many people who were responsible for the collapse of Mutual Benefit Life. There were many other officials who were involved in the company’s risky behavior, but they were not prosecuted.
Reasons for a Slow Correction
The officers of Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Company were able to get away with falsifying financial records for a number of reasons. First, the company was large and complex, making it difficult for regulators and policyholders to track its financial performance. Second, the company’s management team was very good at hiding its fraudulent activity. Third, the regulatory system in the United States was not as strong in the 1980s as it is today. However, there is still more work to be done.
- Year Started: 1845
- Year Ended: 1991
- Origin Of Name: Generic Descriptive
- Location Sales: United States
- Brand Name Predecessor: N/A
- Brand Name Successor: N/A
- Owner Original: Mutual Company
- Owner While In Use: Mutual Company
- Owner Successor: N/A
- Year Resurrected: N/A
- What’s Popular Today: Northwestern Mutual
- Naics Code: 524113
- Location Headquarters: Newark, New Jersey USA