ING US (NYSE:VOYA) wants to be the nation's top retirement solutions firm. And though it may be a newcomer to the exchanges, it's no stranger to the financial services industry. If you haven't taken a look at ING US yet, now may be the perfect time to check out this well-balanced firm. Lets look at the top three reasons an investment in ING US might help you retire rich.
Though ING US plans on rebranding itself under the name Voya Financial down the road, it's already established a substantial customer base under the ING brand with in excess of 200,000 points of distribution across the country and access to more than 13 million customers. Combined with its broad reach, ING US has refocused its product to meet the needs of customers in the current economy -- but with the added benefit of driving increased revenue.
With the deterioration of some retirement-age safety nets, such as pensions and Social Security benefits, many Americans are faced with the need to build more funds for their retirement. But the financial crisis has put many households under financial restraints, leaving little chance that they could post the large cash requirements for traditional retirement products. With the switch from traditionally capital-intensive products, in which customers have to put up large chunks of cash up front, to more fee-based products, ING US is opening itself up to serve a larger customer base.
ING US's largest competitor, MetLife (NYSE:MET), has also announced that it has switched its focus to fee-based products. Both companies have stated that the transition will help in the face of continued low interest rates. So by helping customers, ING US is helping itself. Though it may have accounts start at lower thresholds, basing the products on fee-related transactions has already aided the company's retirement solutions division's revenue growth.
Retirement solutions and investment management accounted for 74% of ING US's operating earnings during the second quarter. Because both divisions are less capital intensive, the firm has seen a great improvement in its total operating earnings -- with a 37% increase compared to the second quarter of 2012. This stems from growth of assets under management, or AUM, leading to higher fee generation. The retirement division saw a 14% increase in AUM compared to the prior year, with the higher fee revenue offsetting the impact from the current low interest rate environment. American International Group (NYSE:AIG) reported a similar impact on fee generation during the second quarter, based on its 10% increase in AUM compared to the same period in 2012.
ING US has also had a solid focus on improving its return on equity, with aggressive targets set for 2016. For its overall ongoing business, ING US has set a target of 12%-13% by 2016, with the second quarter's results showing continued improvements at 9.9%. By comparison, competitor AIG reported a ROE of 7.4% -- a lower result than what ING US had reported for the 2011 fiscal year.
Like AIG, ING US trades below book value. With Friday's close of $29.67, investors have an upside of 34% based on the company's book value per share (excluding AOCI) of $39.82. ING US is currently weighed down by a book of closed variable annuities, which led to the company's reported loss of $82 million for the second quarter. And though it has reduced the exposure to this dead weight by 27% over the past year, it may be quite a while before the company is completely free of the burden. This may allow ING US to remain a value play for investors despite continued operating improvements.
Trading at a discount paired with a small dividend of $0.01 per share, the company is on the right path to deliver more shareholder value down the line. Though the company stated that it's too early to discuss an increase of its payout ratio, it did report $400 million in excess capital, with the target of $1.2 billion to $1.4 billion by 2016. The company has annual meetings following the third quarter to discuss new strategies, so investors can expect to hear some new dividend talks during the third-quarter earnings call.
ING US is not going to be a highflier with exponential growth in just a few quarters. But for investors looking for a good, solid company with long-term potential -- this is a good candidate. Through its current position as a trusted retirement services firm, its focus on initiatives that will bring value to shareholders, and commitment to customers, ING US is primed and ready to be America's retirement company.
Fool contributor Jessica Alling has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends American International Group. The Motley Fool owns shares of American International Group and has the following options: long January 2014 $25 calls on American International Group. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.