Aflac remains committed to Columbia as a business hub and a community
By David Dykes
When Aflac Inc. completed its acquisition of Columbia-based Continental American Insurance Co. in 2009, the deal brought together a homegrown company with a Georgia-based insurer synonymous with a white duck.
Continental earned a reputation for providing highly responsive and flexible insurance products to employers and became one of the nation’s most respected leaders in group insurance. The marriage added group workplace policies to Aflac’s line of individual policies and expanded its broker network, the Insurance Journal, a trade publication, noted at the time.
Now, Columbia is Aflac’s national headquarters for group insurance products, with nearly 900 employees in the Midlands, according to Virgil Miller, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Aflac U.S. and president of the Aflac Group.
He wouldn’t disclose sales figures but says annual production at the Aflac Group has more than doubled in the last six years. “We are very pleased with the growth trajectory we’ve had in Columbia,” Miller says. “We’re actually exceeding expectations this year currently as well as we exceeded expectations last year.”
With its growth, the company is taking more office space in Columbia. It inherited, but outgrew, Continental’s offices on Devine Street. It now occupies four of five floors in a downtown building it shares with AT&T on Williams Street and additional space on Laurel Street.
But as important as Aflac is as an employer and corporate tenant, Miller and other company executives also are proud of their philanthropy.
Building on more than 20 years of ongoing support for The Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Aflac helps underwrite treatment for children, funds essential research, contributes to more than 50 children's hospitals nationwide, and supports child-life programs to improve quality of life and help children cope with their illness.
Among its South Carolina efforts, the company sponsors a wing at Prisma Health Children’s Hospital-Midlands.
Its award-winning My Special Aflac Duck, an interactive companion, gives kids with cancer a chance to find joy through play. They can feed and bathe the duck, sing with it, and hear its heartbeat.
Employees, including Miller, sit on a number of community boards and participate as volunteers in local events such as a golf tournament and fire-engine pull for charitable causes.
“Their presence has been incredible,” says Sam Tenenbaum, president of the Prisma Health-Midlands Foundation. “It’s the corporate culture, but it’s the leadership who takes it and it flowers under them. It’s part of their DNA.”
Columbus, Ga.-based Aflac was incorporated in 1973. Its principal business is voluntary supplemental and life insurance, which is marketed and administered through American Family Life Assurance Company of Columbus (Aflac), in the United States (Aflac U.S.), and through Aflac Life Insurance Japan Ltd. in Japan (Aflac Japan).
Aflac U.S. sells voluntary supplemental insurance products including those designed to protect individuals from depletion of assets (accident, cancer, critical illness/care, hospital indemnity, fixed-benefit dental, and vision care plans) and loss-of-income products (life and short-term disability plans).
The company designs its U.S. insurance products to provide supplemental coverage for people who already have major medical or primary insurance coverage. Most of Aflac's U.S. policies are individually underwritten and marketed through independent agents. Aflac U.S. started to market and administer group insurance products in 2009 with its Continental acquisition.
Aflac U.S. uses dual-channel distribution to market its insurance products to businesses of all sizes. The career agent channel focuses on marketing Aflac to the small business market, which consists of employers with less than 100 employees. The broker channel focuses on selling to the mid- and large-case market, which is comprised of employers with more than 100 employees and typically an average size of 1,000 employees or more.
Looking ahead, Miller sees continued growth for Aflac in Columbia.
Insurance technology and services are a rapidly growing industry in the Midlands. A recent survey shed light on the cluster, which has a $6.7 billion impact and employs approximately 14,900 people, according to the City of Columbia’s website.
Miller says Aflac has invested significantly in digital technology to ensure the company has a roadmap to meet the demands of consumers and customers “when and where and how they would like to do business with us.”
“I want to make it clear that we intend to stay here in Columbia,” he adds. “This area has been great to us. We have become an integral part of the community. We think that the workforce here is highly educated when it comes to insurance and technology, and our intent is to continue to be a part of this community.”