Chattanooga-based Unum Group boosts dividend 14 percent

Chattanooga-based Unum Group boosts dividend 14 percent

May 21st, 2014 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

Tom Watjen

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

Unum Group may be the world's biggest disability insurer, but CEO Tom Watjen still sees plenty of room for growth by the Chattanooga-based company.

With most Americans and British residents saying they lack adequate protection against disability or job loss, Watjen told company shareholders Tuesday that Unum's insurance business is poised for future growth.

"Throughout our entire history we have built a tremendous franchise and legacy, and I've never been more optimistic about our prospects for growth or more confident in our ability to capitalize on the opportunities that lie ahead," Watjen said during Unum's annual meeting Tuesday in Columbia, S.C.

Unum's board underscored Watjen's optimism Tuesday by raising the company's quarterly dividend by 14 percent to 16.5 cents per share, or 66 cents per year, effective with the dividend payment expected in the third quarter of 2014.

"Our consistent operating performance and strong capital position have enabled us to again increase our common stock dividend," Watjen said in a statement.

Unum has more than doubled its dividend since 2007 when the company paid a quarterly dividend of only 7.5 cents per share. In the same period, Unum has repurchased $2.6 billion of its stock to cut its outstanding shares by 29 percent.

Last year, Unum shares traded up 68.4 percent, nearly triple the market average for all of 2013, despite the relatively modest economic recovery last year.

"We have shown that we can effectively operate in this environment by staying disciplined and focused on our business plan, while also taking the actions needed to capitalize on what we believe is unprecedented opportunity in our industry," Watjen said.

Unum said nearly 70 percent of Americans and 90 percent of British workers lack adequate financial protection benefits, such as disability insurance, and many are living paycheck to paycheck.

Last year, Unum paid $6.5 billion in disability and other benefits and helped more than 230,000 people return to work and a productive lifestyles.

While doing so, Watjen said the company advanced its position in its markets, growing operating earnings per share for the eighth consecutive year by 5.4 percent. Total return on equity across all business lines was 11.4 percent.

During Tuesday's shareholders meeting, Unum also announced that Randall C. Horn, president and chief executive officer of Unum's subsidiary Colonial Life business, will retire by March 31, 2015. He is stepping down as president of Colonial Life effective July 1.

Timothy G. Arnold, currently senior vice president of sales and marketing for Colonial Life, will become president July 1. Arnold previously served as Colonial Life's chief operations officer after joining the company from Unum US in July 2011.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfree or at 757-6340.