Brookfield on path to boost earnings with fast-growing insurance arm

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Pedestrians and office workers walk past the Bay St. entrance to Brookfield Place in Toronto’s Financial District on July 12, 2022.Fred Lum/the Globe and Mail

One of the cornerstones of Brookfield Corp.’s BN-T plan to boost its earnings over the next five years is a business that barely existed for the company three years ago: Its fast-growing insurance arm.

What started as a small business allowing pension plans to transfer risk for future liabilities, and a virtual rounding error on Brookfield’s vast balance sheet as recently as 2020, is soon expected to reach US$100-billion in assets under management, then balloon to US$250-billion by 2028.

“We have lofty ambitions,” said Sachin Shah, chief executive officer of Brookfield’s insurance arm, in an interview. “It could be a very sizable part of the overall franchise.”

The business Brookfield set out to build three years ago is designed to be sleepy and steady. Through Brookfield Reinsurance Ltd. BNRE-T, the publicly listed subsidiary that holds its insurance assets and operating companies, it mostly offers predictable income to retirees, insurance to other insurers and other types of plain-vanilla life and casualty policies.

Brookfield is deliberately keeping its exposure to property insurance small, as liabilities from severe weather events and natural disasters such as wildfires and floods have become increasingly unpredictable.

Instead, its core product is annuities with fixed interest rates – a kind of insurance that converts a lump-sum premium into a promise of regular payments with interest over a period of time.

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It is a far cry from the prestige of owning gleaming office towers in large cities, the high-stakes deal making of private equity or the global urgency to build new renewable energy sources, where Brookfield is already well established.

But the popularity of annuities has spiked, first as upheaval from the COVID-19 pandemic created a larger appetite for predictable income, and then as rising interest rates made the returns offered on the products more attractive.

In the span of a few years, insurance has become one of three pillars of Brookfield’s strategy, along with its established, US$865-billion asset-management arm and a growing private wealth business forged through its 2019 purchase of a majority stake in Oaktree Capital Group LLC.

Over the next five years, Brookfield’s insurance-solutions business is expected to account for more than a third of

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