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American Family Insurance Co. policyholders have approved the company’s request to change its structure, giving the Madison-based firm the flexibility to expand and offer new products.

The company said Wednesday its plan was approved during a special meeting with policyholders. The company’s proposal received 84.5 percent approval from policyholders who cast votes by proxy and in person, surpassing the 75 percent needed for it to move forward.

Roughly 6 percent or nearly 210,000 of American Family’s 3.7 million policyholders voted on the plan, according to AST Fund Solutions, which assisted American Family in conducting and tabulating the vote. The plan has been approved by the company’s board of directors and the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI).

Ken Muth, spokesman for American Family, said the changeover is expected to take place either on or shortly after Jan. 1. He said the new company structure won’t impact operations.

“There will be no impact to our agencies in the community or how the business operates right now,” he said. “It really is a structure change at this time, which gives us additional flexibility for the future.”

Policyholders won’t notice any change, Muth said. Premium pricing also will remain unaffected as the firm’s corporate structure is converted to a mutual holding company.

The next step is for OCI to issue a new certificate of authority to American Family to reflect its new structure as a stock insurance company. OCI will then issue a certificate of incorporation to American Family Mutual Holding Company, which will indirectly own, through an intermediate holding company, 100 percent of the stock of American Family Mutual Insurance Co.

American Family said in a statement that new opportunities under consideration include investing or acquiring non-insurance companies that specialize in products and services that protect customers from accidents and injuries such as smart-home technology and distracted-driving prevention.

The company said its new structure also opens the door for the company to sell stock to raise capital but that it has no plans for that. That move would require approval from the holding company’s board and members and OCI.

Peter Carstensen, professor of law at UW-Madison, said he wasn’t surprised policyholders approved the change, adding that for policyholders it should be business as usual.

“This move doesn’t make much difference in how the business operates in terms of what the insured sees,” he said. “What this does do, however, is that it gives management potentially more discretion to do things that might adversely affect those insured down the road.”

It will be up to OCI to monitor and determine whether new business ventures make sense for American Family.

“This is why we have a regulatory system in place to oversee these matters to make sure companies don’t take any unnecessary risks,” Carstensen said.

American Family now operates in 19 states: Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin. The new structure allows it to more easily expand into other states as well as acquire other businesses.

According to the OCI’s 2015 Wisconsin Insurance Report, American Family is the state’s market share leader in homeowners insurance at 20.6 percent, commercial insurance at 6.7 percent and auto insurance at 17.5 percent.

The data in the OCI report suggest some potential growth opportunities for American Family. In life insurance, American Family ranked fourth in market share at 3.2 percent, behind category leader Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co.’s 19.7 percent. In farmowners insurance, American Family ranked second with 13 percent market share, behind Rural Mutual Insurance Co., which controlled 35.1 percent of that sector.


Larry Avila is a business reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.