A.M. Best Co. has affirmed the financial strength rating (FSR) of B++ (Good) and issuer credit ratings (ICR) of “bbb+” of the life/health insurance subsidiaries of Fortegra Financial Corporation (Fortegra) (headquartered in Jacksonville, FL) (NYSE: FRF), which include Life of the South Insurance Company (Nashville, GA), Bankers Life of Louisiana (Ruston, LA) and Southern Financial Life Insurance Company (Scottsville, KY). The life/health insurance subsidiaries are collectively referred to as the Life of the South Group. A.M. Best also has affirmed the FSR of B++ (Good) and the ICRs of “bbb+” of Fortegra’s property/casualty subsidiaries, Lyndon Southern Insurance Company (Wilmington, DE) and Insurance Company of the South (Athens, GA). Concurrently, A.M. Best has affirmed the ICR of “bb+” of Fortegra. The outlook for all ratings is stable. Fortegra is a diversified insurance services company that provides insurance-related products, distribution and administrative services on a wholesale basis to clients, which are banks, credit unions, insurance companies, insurance brokers and agents as well as other financial services companies primarily in the United States. While A.M. Best acknowledges Fortegra’s favorable operating results in recent years (derived from its insurance subsidiaries), as well as its increasing level of fee income from its non-insurance operations, A.M. Best notes that Fortegra maintains relatively high levels of intangible assets and financial leverage primarily due to its recent acquisitions. Fortegra’s financial leverage consists of preferred trust securities and notes payable consisting entirely of borrowings on its credit facility. Fortegra restructured its credit facility in 2012, entering into a five year $125 million secured credit agreement with a syndicate of lenders. The affirmation of the Life of the South Group’s ratings reflects its sufficient risk-adjusted capitalization. The group’s risk-adjusted capitalization has been enhanced by a conservative balance sheet comprised primarily of investment grade long-term bonds, which have performed well and are currently in a net unrealized gain position. Additionally, the affirmation of the group’s ratings recognizes its positive net operating performance derived mainly from its core credit life and credit accident and health segments. The rating actions also acknowledge the group’s positive trends in its total premium growth in recent years, which is enhanced by increased production from existing clients as well as new clients distributing its credit insurance products and geographic expansion. A.M. Best notes that the group distributes a large portion of its credit insurance products through consumer finance companies that benefit from the general tightening of lending standards as well as the difficulty consumers have in obtaining credit at other financial institutions.
While A.M. Best notes that Fortegra has benefited from increased fee income from service contract and debt cancellation products through its non-insurance affiliates, A.M. Best remains concerned with the Life of the South Group’s narrow business profile, although it is expanding both its product offerings and distribution capabilities. A.M. Best believes the group may be challenged to sustain and improve its operating performance going forward given the challenges of the continuing low interest rate environment and expense strains expected from new business growth.The ratings for Lyndon and Insurance South recognize their sound risk-adjusted capitalization, niche distribution and the historical operating profitability of their core credit-related books of business. Somewhat offsetting these positive rating factors is the sizable growth in the premium volume and of both companies’ heavy reliance on third-party reinsurance, as evidenced by their elevated ceded and gross underwriting leverage measures. However, the credit risk associated with Fortegra’s reinsurance recoverables is significantly mitigated by the credit quality of its rated reinsurers and collateralization of recoverables due from non-rated entities. In addition, macroeconomic conditions may put additional strain on property/casualty profitability as such products are tied to the availability of credit and the willingness of the U.S. consumer to borrow, despite Lyndon and Insurance South’s stable performances over the recent economic downturn. A.M. Best believes that future positive rating actions could result from Fortegra’s continued strong operating performance, sustained improvement in its risk-adjusted capitalization and a material reduction in financial leverage, with less dependence on borrowings from its credit facility. Rating factors that could result in negative rating actions include a significant and sustained decline in the organization’s risk-adjusted capitalization due to large stockholder dividends and/or deterioration in the quality of the consolidated balance sheet, including, but not limited to, an increase in financial leverage or an increase in the ratio of intangible assets to stockholders’ equity.
The methodology used in determining these ratings is Best’s Credit Rating Methodology, which provides a comprehensive explanation of A.M. Best’s rating process and contains the different rating criteria employed in the rating process. Best’s Credit Rating Methodology can be found at www.ambest.com/ratings/methodology.A.M. Best Company is the world's oldest and most authoritative insurance rating and information source. For more information, visit www.ambest.com. Copyright © 2013 by A.M. Best Company, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.