Ohio National lays off chief distribution officer; president retires after three months on the job

The personnel changes come weeks after the insurer's controversial decision to stop paying trail commissions on some annuities

Nov 20, 2018 @ 5:17 pm

By Greg Iacurci

Ohio National Financial Services Inc. laid off its chief distribution officer, H. Douglas Cooke, at the same time that president and chief operating officer Christopher Carlson has decided to retire, three months after being promoted.

The executive changes come less than two months after a controversial decision to stop paying trail commissions to advisers on some of the insurer's annuity products.

Mr. Carlson is retiring from the firm for "personal reasons," according to a company announcement. He had only been in the role of president and COO for three months, beginning Aug. 21, but had been with the firm for 25 years. He'll continue to consult for the company, Gary Huffman, Ohio National's chairman and CEO, said in a written statement.

Mr. Cooke's position was eliminated as part of a strategy announced in early September to exit the annuity and retirement plan business lines and focus on life and disability-income insurance, according to Mr. Huffman.

"With a more focused strategy within the traditional distribution channel, a company our size no longer needs a chief distribution officer," he said.

Ohio National has come under fire for its announcement at the end of September that it would stop paying trail commissions to advisers that had sold one of its variable annuities with a guaranteed minimum income benefit rider. The policy, which advisers and insurance executives have called a first of its kind among annuity providers, is scheduled to take effect Dec. 12.

Three lawsuits challenging that action have been filed to date. One was filed by a broker with LPL Financial and two by independent broker-dealers, Commonwealth Financial Network and Veritas Independent Partners.

Mr. Huffman didn't comment on whether the executive changes are related to the company's new commission policy. He said the company remains committed to the strategy despite the new leadership.

The firm's board of directors elected Barbara Turner to succeed Mr. Carlson effective Nov. 30. Ms. Turner has been chief administrative officer at Ohio National since January 2016. Prior to that, she held other executive roles including president and chief executive of the firm's broker-dealer, The O.N. Equity Sales Co. She'll be the first woman to serve as company president.

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