Ameriprise Financial Q4 2021 Earnings Call Transcript


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Participants

Corporate Executives

  • Alicia A. Charity
    Investor Relations
  • James M. Cracchiolo
    Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
  • Walter S. Berman
    Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer

Presentation

Operator

Welcome to the Fourth Quarter 2021 Earnings Conference Call. My name is Sylvia and I'll be operator for today's call. [Operator Instructions] Later we will conduct a question-and-answer session. [Operator Instructions]

I will now turn the call over to Alicia Charity. Alicia you may begin.

Alicia A. Charity
Investor Relations at Ameriprise Financial

Thank you. Sylvia and good morning. Welcome to Ameriprise Financial's fourth quarter earnings call. On the call with me today are Jim Cracchiolo, Chairman and CEO; and Walter Berman, Chief Financial Officer. Following their remarks, we'll be happy to take your questions.

Turning to our earnings presentation materials that are available on our website. On Slide two you will see a discussion of forward-looking statements. Specifically, during the call you will hear references to various non-GAAP financial measures, which we believe provide insight into the company's operation. Reconciliation of non-GAAP numbers to their respective GAAP numbers can be found in today's materials and on our website.

Some statements that we make on this call may be forward-looking reflecting management's expectations about future events and overall operating plans and performance. These forward-looking statements speak only as of today's date and involve a number of risks and uncertainties. A sample list of factors and risks that could cause actual results to be materially different from forward-looking statements can be found on our fourth quarter 2021 earnings release, our 2020 annual report to shareholders, and our 2020 10-K report. We make no obligation to publicly update or revise these forward-looking statements.

On Slide three you see our GAAP financial results at the top of the page for the fourth quarter. Below that, you'll see our adjusted operating results, which management believes enhances the understanding of our business by reflecting the underlying performance of our core operations and facilitates a more meaningful trend analysis. Many of the comments that management makes on the call today will focus on adjusted operating results.

And with that, I'll turn it over to Jim.

James M. Cracchiolo
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Ameriprise Financial

Good morning and thank you for joining our fourth quarter call, I hope you all doing well, Ameriprise delivered another strong quarter completing an exceptional year in 2021. We continue to execute well and produced record results. Importantly, we helped our clients navigate the environment, while driving profitable organic growth, advancing key strategic initiatives and reinforcing our strong position in the marketplace. At the same time, Ameriprise continue to generate excellent shareholder returns.

In terms of the environment with the economy continuing its recovery US equity markets finished the year strong. In Europe the environment improved, but continue to lead the US. As we've seen high inflation is pressuring the Fed to move on raising short-term rates causing greater volatility in the equity markets.

Let's move to the highlights for the quarter. Total assets under management administration were, up 29% over last year and reached a new high of $1.4 trillion. In the quarter, we added a $136 billion on our acquisition of BMO EMEA's Asset Management business and $40 billion in total client flows, also a new record.

Turning to our fourth quarter adjusted operating results. Revenues were $3.7 billion, up 18% fueled by strong organic growth I've mentioned and equity market appreciation. Earnings rose 29% with earnings per share, up 36%, reflecting robust business growth and sound capital management and ROE excluding AOCI and unlocking was at a record 50.7%, compared to 36.1% a year ago.

Our Fourth quarter results are consistent with the record results we delivered for the full-year. Excluding unlocking revenues were $13.8 billion, up 17%. Earnings rose 29% to $2.7 billion with earnings per share, up 35%, $22.75. We continue to execute our strategy, investing strongly in our higher multiple businesses, which now represent 80% of our 2021 adjusted operating earnings for the year, while continuing to generate strong returns from our high quality retirement protection solutions business.

Let's move to Advice and Wealth Management where we continue to generate strong momentum and growth. It was a standout quarter. Clients were active working closely with their advisors benefiting from our comprehensive advice and solutions and the strategic investments we've made over many years. Engagement is high and a large number of our clients are utilizing our extensive digital capabilities to track and achieve their goals. This is leading to robust client activity, asset flows and client acquisition.

For the quarter, total client assets were, up 17% to $858 billion. Client inflows were up 29% to a record $12.5 billion, driven by strong client acquisition and deepening client relationships. Wrap net inflows remained strong at $10.5 billion, up 17% driving wrap assets under management to a record $465 billion. Client cash balances grew to $43.8 billion. Transactional activity grew for another quarter, up nearly 9% over last year with good volume across a range of product solutions.

Our advisors are highly engaged, the training, coaching and full suite of tools we provide advisors is helping them build and deepen client relationships, track prospects and run and grow their practices on our fully integrated platform. This is driving strong advisor productivity growth, up 18% to nearly $800,000 per advisor.

With regard to recruiting, we added another 86 highly productive advisors in the quarter. Helping advisors grow their practices is a top priority along with continuing to recruit experienced productive advisors. We recently surveyed 100s of advisors, who joined Ameriprise over the last few years, 90% said they had better client-facing technology, financial capabilities and are better able to serve and acquire clients at Ameriprise than they did with their prior firms. That's terrific, and it's an example of why we feel so strongly about our value proposition and the ability to grow.

The strength of our value proposition is also reflected in the recognition we are receiving. That includes being named the number one most trusted wealth manager, and clients consistently rating us 4.9 out of 5 in overall satisfaction. In fact we're showcasing this strength in our latest national advertising campaign that we launched this week called Advice Worth Talking About. It's a distinct platform that conveys how we help clients feel so confident with their experience that they're referring Ameriprise to their friends and family.

Turning to the bank. Total assets grew to nearly $12.5 billion in the quarter, up from $8.1 billion a year ago and we feel well positioned as we transition to a rising rate environment. We continue to have strong demand from our lending solutions, especially our pledged loan products. As we move through 2022 there is clearly an opportunity as interest rates rise, we would have a direct benefit in Wealth Management, where in addition to what we currently have at the bank, we have our cash sweep deposits and certificate businesses that would benefit. The wrap up AWM on metrics and financials are excellent. Pre-tax income was $472 million, up 34% and margin was strong at 22.3%, up 250 basis points, which compares very well in the industry.

Now I'll turn to our asset management business, where we delivered a strong year. We stay focused on meeting our clients' needs and drove the business forward, while completing a significant and complementary acquisition that added $136 billion in acquired assets, significantly expanding our capabilities and reach. Total asset management assets under management increased 38% to $754 billion, also a new record. As an active manager we start with our research, which is excellent. It's foundational to our business as we focus on generating consistently strong investment performance for clients. That's across equity, fixed income and asset allocation strategies.

At year-end well over 80% of our funds were above the medium on an asset weighted basis over three, five and 10-year time periods. This is terrific performance, and when we compare it to a broad group of US peers we track, we performed at or near the top of the Lipper ratings for multiple time periods. Overall, we had net inflows of $27.5 billion. We are able to earn a significant level of flows from the most US clients that elected to transfer their assets to us in both retail and institutional strategies. This is a great example of the value we can realize from our strategic relationship with them.

Global retail net inflows were $13.6 billion, including reinvestment dividends, as well as strong flows from US BMO clients. In terms of fixed income our results were good and in line with the industry as we've made significant progress in increasing our market share. In equities our flow rate declined a bit and is consistent with the industry average after outperforming in recent quarters. As you've seen, there has been more volatility given concerns about monetary policy and the pandemic. In EMEA retail, we had inflows on the continent. In the UK market conditions remain challenging, and while we experienced some net outflows, flows continue to improve over the past two quarters.

Looking ahead for global retail as we navigate this period of heightened volatility we have a strong lineup of high performing strategies across equities, fixed income and asset allocation. Thirteen of our US investment strategies had over $1 billion in sales last year and that's up $4 billion just two years ago. We will continue to execute our successful strategies and reinforce relationships with advisors and our partner firms that have driven strong results over multiple years.

Turning to global institutional, excluding legacy insurance partners, net inflows were $14.8 billion, driven strongly by US BMO client transfers, as well as mandate wins and top-ups from existing clients. In terms of our BMO EMEA acquisition, I feel good about how we're tracking, and the teams we have in place. Executing the integration is a top priority and I am encouraged by our progress in these initial months together. We've seen that BMO is now in our numbers and Walter will take you through that further. To wrap up, asset management, I feel good about the business, the progress we've made over recent years and our priorities to drive long-term growth.

Moving to Retirement Protection Solutions, our results were strong with strong sales in the quarter. Variable annuity sales were, up 15% driven by our structured product and traditional [Indecipherable] product without living benefits. And in protection sales were up 41% driven by our VUL product with sales nearly doubled as it is an appropriate product in this low rate environment.

As you know, we have been taking strategic actions within the annuity business and that continued in the quarter as we further narrowed our variable annuity offerings. As part of our focus on products without living benefits, effective January 1 we discontinued three of our four living benefit riders. These three ride as represented 98% of our living benefit sales for the past year, and by the end of the second quarter of 2022, we will have stopped all new sales of our one remaining rider, which represents a very, very small part of our business.

On the insurance side, we're making similar moves in the product line where we discontinued two products in our UL lineup. We've built differentiated Retirement Protection Solution businesses over many years that deliver superior financial results, returns and steady free cash flow, consistent with our other business lines.

Overall, Ameriprise delivered a record year and we're positioned exceptionally well for 2022. Listen, across our business, we're driving terrific results. We ended the year with excellent organic growth, a strong balance sheet and a significant excess capital position. And Ameriprise continue to generate one of the highest ROEs in financial services, above 50% and that's what our asset light and higher returning balance sheet businesses and while maintaining a strong excess capital position. So to close, our team is focused on executing our successful strategy, delivering for our clients and continuing to drive profitable growth.

Now, Walter, will review the numbers in more detail and then we'll take your questions.

Walter S. Berman
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Ameriprise Financial

Thank you, Jim, Ameriprise delivered strong financial results across all our businesses. We reached new record levels of revenue, pre-tax adjusted operating earnings and return on equity in the quarter and for the year. We delivered strong flows, earning growth and margin expansion in our core wealth and asset management businesses with wealth and asset management now representing 81% of Ameriprise's earnings in the quarter. This compares favorably to 75% of total earnings a year ago.

Our Retirement and Protection Solution businesses continue to perform well, as we further optimize our risk return profile. We continue to generate robust free cash flow across all our businesses, our balance sheet fundamentals are excellent and we returned nearly 90% of adjusted operating earnings to shareholders in the quarter and for the year consistent with our target. We ended the year with a significant $2 billion in excess capital position.

Let's turn to Slide six, we delivered on our profitable growth strategy in our core wealth and asset management businesses. In the quarter, our organic strategy was supplemented with the acquisition of BMO's EMEA asset management business, which added $136 billion of AUMA. In addition, we were able to add a net $15 billion of flows and AUM in the quarter primarily from BMO's US clients that elected to transfer additional retail and institutional assets to us.

Overall, AUMA was up 29% to $1.4 trillion and wealth and asset management client flows reached $40 billion. On a full-year basis, our flows were, up nearly 140%, representing the successful execution of our growth strategies in each of these businesses.

Let's turn to Slide seven, where you can see that we are delivering profitable organic growth. Revenues in Wealth and Asset Management grew 23% to $3.2 billion, the pre-tax operating earnings of $802 million, up 45%. This drove a blended margin of 28.3%, up 420 basis points from an year ago.

Let's turn to the individual segment performance beginning with Wealth Management on Slide eight. Our strategy of providing best-in-class tools and technology to enable advisors to grow their practices has generated strong organic growth results. In the quarter, we generated record client flows of $12.5 billion, including $10.5 billion into our wrap program. Organic growth combined with strong markets led to client assets of $858 billion, up 17%. Advisor force continue to deliver exceptional productivity growth with revenue per advisor reaching a new high of $796,000 in the quarter, up 20% from the prior year.

Turning to Slide nine, you can see that the results in the quarter are continuation of our strong trends for the past two years. Flows increased and we continue to see excellent transactional activity levels from a differentiated client engagement. Total client assets grew 33% to $858 billion over the past few years with client flows more than doubling over the same period. And, over the past two years advisor productivity was up 28%.

On Page 10, you can see that our focus on profitable growth is showing up in excellent financial results and wealth management. In fact, revenue and earnings for wealth management reached record levels. Adjusted operating net revenues grew 19% over $2.1 billion fueled by robust client flows, an 8% increase in transactional activities supplemented by strong markets. Wealth management pre-tax adjusted operating earnings increased 34% to $472 million. Ameriprise Bank is a growth driver of wealth management.

In total, the bank has $12.5 billion of assets after moving an additional $4 billion of sweep cash onto our balance sheet in 2021. Expenses remain well managed. G&A expenses increased 2% as higher activity based expenses and performance-based compensation were largely offset by expense discipline. As we move into 2022, we will continue to manage expenses in light of the strong revenue environment and we expect proportional expense growth. In the quarter our pre-tax adjusted operating margin was 22.3%, an excellent result with an increase of 250 basis points from the prior year without a benefit on short interest rates.

Let's turn to Asset Management on Slide 11, we would continue to deliver excellent organic growth that was supplemented by the closing of the BMO acquisition in the quarter. Assets under management were up 38% to $754 billion, including $136 billion of assets acquired from BMO EMEA. Net flows were also stronger $27.5 billion in the quarter, up from $7 billion a year ago.

Closing this quarter included a net $15 billion of inflows in AUM related to BMO. This included $16.9 billion of inflows in the US from a decision by BMO US clients to transfer retail and institutional assets to us, as well as $1.9 billion of outflows in EMEA, about 40% which was deal related breakage. A margin in the quarter was quite strong, up 46% up from just under 40% last year.

On Slide 12, you can see these strong results are a continuation of the trend over the past couple of years. Assets under management grew 53% and underlying flows improved $35 billion, excluding BMO over this time period. The operating leverage in the asset management in the significant with margins from the trailing 12-months, up 46% up from 36% two years ago. Additionally, you saw in our press release that we made some enhancements to our AUM disclosure. Specifically, we broaden our definition for alternative assets to better demonstrate our underlying business and the additional assets from BMO. Alternatives are an important part and growing part of our business, with about $40 billion of AUM of course various strategies.

Turning to Page 13, you see that these organic growth trends are generating excellent financial performance in asset management. Adjusted operating revenues increased 33% to $1.1 billion. The acquisition of BMO's EMEA asset management business contributed about $60 million to our revenues for two months. Excluding BMO EMEA, underlying revenue growth remains very strong at 25%, reflecting the cumulative benefit of net inflows over the past year, market appreciation and higher performance fees.

The fee rate in the quarter was 54 basis points, which benefit from higher performance fee, partially offset by the negative impact of two months of BMO EMEA in our results. Excluding the impact from performance fees and in BMO our fee rate was in line with our prior quarters at approximately 52 basis points. Expenses remain well managed and in line with expectations given the revenue growth. G&A expenses were up 12% excluding BMO, as well managed underlying expenses was elevated by performance fee compensation.

Pre-tax adjusted operating earnings was $330 million, up $129 million from last year, including $22 million of higher performance fees and a $4 million pre-tax earnings contribution from BMO. This demonstrates the underlying strength of our asset management business. We delivered a 45.7% margin in the quarter, which included BMO EMEA for two months of the quarter. Excluding BMO EMEA, the margin in the quarter was 48.6%.

If BMO had been in our results for a full quarter we expect our overall adjusted margin to decline by approximately 3% to 4% percentage points. With the BMO transaction closed in November and a couple of months with BMO under the mirror price umbrella the business fundamentals and financial performance are in line of our expectations. This includes our expectations around accretion targets, synergies, and the integration expenses.

Let's turn to Page 14. Retirement and Protection Solutions include blocks of business with a differentiated risk profile that generate substantial free cash flow. The business is performing well, but pre-tax adjusted operating earnings of $183 million, up slightly from a year ago.

As Jim said, we continue to focus on optimizing our risk profile and shifting our business mix to lower-risk offerings. We are accelerating that shift with our recent product announcements to exit DA Living Benefits, Universal Life with secondary guarantees and our UL-LTC combo product. These announcement caused an uptick in living benefit sales at the end of December, with a total of 67% on variable new sales with our living benefits for the full quarter.

Now value with living benefits represent only 61% of the overall book now, down another 240 basis points in the past year. In 2022, we would expect less than 1% of our new sales to include living benefit riders. We had a similar trend in protection, with sales driven by higher margin VUL sales. This mix and sales and account values for both retirement and protection products are expected to continue.

Now let's move to the balance sheet on Slide 15. Our balance sheet fundamentals remain excellent. We had holding company available liquidity of $2.4 billion, an excess capital of $2 billion at the end of the quarter following the acquisition of BMO. A diversified high quality AA-rated investment portfolio remains well positioned and our hedge program was 95% effective in 2021. These strong fundamentals allow us to deliver consistent and differentiated level of capital return to shareholders.

As I mentioned, we returned nearly 90% of earnings to shareholders in 2021 consistent with our target. Yesterday, we announced an additional $3 billion share repurchase authorization to be used used through March 31 2024, and feel good about our ability to continue return capital to shareholders.

With that, we'll take your questions.

Questions and Answers

Operator

Thank you. We will now begin the question-and-answer session. [Operator Instructions] And our first question comes from Suneet Kamath from Jefferies.

Suneet Kamath
Analyst at Jefferies Financial Group

Hi, thanks good morning. Jim, I wanted to start on the US retail flow picture. As we think about the past couple of years, you've had a pretty good run, sort of, bucking industry trends in terms of inflows. Do you view what's happening in the fourth quarter here is a little bit of a bump in the road? We'll get back on track? Or is there anything that you need to do that are more substantial?

James M. Cracchiolo
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Ameriprise Financial

I'm assuming that you're talking about the asset management US flows?

Suneet Kamath
Analyst at Jefferies Financial Group

That's correct.

James M. Cracchiolo
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Ameriprise Financial

Okay. Yes, so what we saw in the fourth quarter was that we had actually some good flows in our fixed income consistent with the industry. So we're like right in there with the industry average, which we've been able to gain share, which is one of the things we want to do and we actually see stronger opportunity there as we move forward based on the funds and the performance of the funds and some of the categories that we know are in demand. So, I think that will be positive.

In equities there has been some rotation that occurred in the fourth quarter, value, growth etc, a little more volatility, a little sales slowed, I think you saw that in the industry. Our total sales were about industry average when we were above the previous 2Q quarters. We actually feel pretty good about the fund line up, the performance of the lineup, which is very strong in the number of funds that we're selling now versus what we did in the past. We had a little reduction in some sales as we closed our dividend income fund, we run that temporarily look at that as we got a lot of activity into it to digest it, but we'll be reviewing that as we move forward and that has been a good sales driver for us. So I actually believe with the line-up and what we will do there and the continuation that equities will be in demand, I feel good about that as we move forward.

Suneet Kamath
Analyst at Jefferies Financial Group

Okay, that makes sense. And then I guess one for Walter on expenses. I guess, in the past when we've had these periods of market volatility, you sort of stepped up your cost savings, I'm just wondering, if that's in play at this point, and then relatedly, we're hearing from other companies about expense pressure from inflation, as well as people coming back to the office. Can you give us your thoughts on those impacts and your outlook for G&A overall?

Walter S. Berman
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Ameriprise Financial

Sure. So obviously, you know, with the markets dropping, we had a correlated reduction in expense as third-party compensation. So that's going to happen. As it relates to developing we have strategies, we have not certainly being implementing, we've had this event take place in '19 to '20, you want to make sure we stay on track to get profitable growth and still invest in the business. So we are gauging this situation, we feel comfortable as we navigate we have our strategies to address it, it's a leverage business, but a bit about that. And as it relates to inflation, if you looked at our expenses, certainly there is inflation as -- and some of the wages, but it's totally manageable and that's been incorporated into our plan.

Suneet Kamath
Analyst at Jefferies Financial Group

And do you have like an overall outlook for sort of G&A growth?

Walter S. Berman
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Ameriprise Financial

G&A growth we felt was going to be, again out of -- our targeted range excluding BMO [Indecipherable] add-on from that standpoint we normally mid low-digits, and so again, at this stage, we feel comfortable from that standpoint and we're just evaluating where the market is going. But this year and I would point out, we anticipate we could get a benefit coming from the Fed on interest rates, which would mitigate some of that.

Suneet Kamath
Analyst at Jefferies Financial Group

Yes. For sure. Okay, thanks guys.

Walter S. Berman
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Ameriprise Financial

You're welcome.

Operator

Our next question comes from Alex Blostein from Goldman Sachs.

Brian Bailey
Analyst at The Goldman Sachs Group

Hi, good morning. This is actually Brian Bailey on behalf of Alex. I was wondering maybe if we can spend a second on the BMO flows for the quarter. So the US clients electing to transfer assets and I think you said that was about $17 billion, are there any more assets that you think could transfer?

And then perhaps a second question, I think you said that there were some deal related breakage on the EMEA part of the business, is there anything else that you're expecting that?

James M. Cracchiolo
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Ameriprise Financial

So on BMO, we do expect a few billion more, I think will come in the first quarter, something along those lines. On the breakage and we started to see a bit of breakage in the fourth quarter as we said probably of the $1.9 billion out from BMO, we can estimate is probably around 40% to 50% or so. Now some of that was LDI etc. So, we actually think that there will be, I mean, we always have to plan for a level of breakage.

However, we saw that last year clients stayed in pretty well. They really did like the assumption that we did of the business and what we're doing and we got to putting in as part of our makeup. So we're not really in any way disrupting some of the investment areas, etc, that are important for that, but we're trying to bring more capabilities to bear greater technology, etc, etc, that would also be helpful. And so, we will experience, I mean, it's an institutional business. So, there may be up for review, various things that they have to go through their processes. So we have assumed the level of breakage, but we will be reporting on that as we go through, but that's all in the assumptions that Walter mentioned as we look at the business and what it will generate.

Brian Bailey
Analyst at The Goldman Sachs Group

Got it. Okay. And maybe just one on the impact for higher rates, particularly for wealth management pre-tax income. Some of your peers have talked about several 100 basis points of sensitivity. Is there any color you can give us on how much pre-tax income we could be thinking about, and then also sort of additional to that, how are you thinking about moving incremental cash to the balance sheet in 2022?

James M. Cracchiolo
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Ameriprise Financial

Walter, you can handle it.

Walter S. Berman
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Ameriprise Financial

Sure. Okay, so 400 basis point increase we will keep the majority of that as we look at the -- but again that's subject to doing competitive comparisons, but that's been the normal trend line as it relates to that. And you know net range you should think about as we publish that we have basically on balance sheet right now is most affected is late that is been the mid-20 range, and then we also have our surge, which will be -- we'll get benefits from it. So that's the sort of math of it that we would get.

Brian Bailey
Analyst at The Goldman Sachs Group

Got it. Okay, thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from Ryan Krueger from KBW.

Ryan Krueger
Analyst at KBW

Hi. Good morning. Can you talk about the expected timing of the BMO related expense synergies? And also, is $85 million that you had originally targeted still a good assumption going forward?

Walter S. Berman
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Ameriprise Financial

Okay. It's Walter. The answer is yes. The good assumption is still a good assumption about and you should assume in the range of about 25% should occur in 2022 and the balance beyond that mostly in 2023.

Ryan Krueger
Analyst at KBW

Thanks. And then I know it's still early in the year, but given the increased volatility we've seen in the first few weeks of the year, can you give any perspective on what you've seen from retail client activity and to what extent it may have been affected by this?

James M. Cracchiolo
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Ameriprise Financial

So, so far for the first few weeks, retail activity has seemed to hold up pretty well. Again, it's always depends on what our expectations as we go forward and what the disruption may be. But I think there is still the opportunity for clients to appropriately allocate in their portfolios to add funds where necessary, etc. So, we haven't seen a dramatic shifts there. I would probably say, again, it depends on what they might be putting money into that may have adjusted a bit. But this market pullback may be an opportunity for some people. It depends on whether the projection out will be more of a more disruptive volatility versus one that people feel comfortable with. But so far, so good.

Ryan Krueger
Analyst at KBW

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from Erik Bass from Autonomous Research.

Erik Bass
Analyst at Autonomous Research

Hi, thank you. Can you talk about the decision to stop selling the guaranteed VA and SGUL policies? And does this materially change the amount of capital you're allocating to writing new business? And also, does it signal any change in your view on retaining the in-force block? And should we think of the announcement of a potential precursor to a reinsurance deal similar to what you did with fixed annuities?

James M. Cracchiolo
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Ameriprise Financial

Okay. So I'll handle part of that, and I'll have Walter handle the capital side of it. So as we said, we will continue to fine-tune our book to where we think both the products that are appropriate for clients in this environment, but also appropriate of the company as far as the risk return rewards and the economics overall. And so we have continued to shift from living guarantees back to our RAVA product that has no living guarantees in our structured product. Those were actually -- the RAVA product was the core part of the business before guarantees came into favor. And we feel that they are very appropriate for a certain segment of the clientele base particularly in this environment and structures is a way for us to give people a little more of the steady state that they're looking for in the variable side of the business.

So, we feel very good about that and the shift away. In fact, you saw our sales in total actually went up last year rather than down as we started to shift. And we don't feel an issue that we need to provide those guarantees. And there are other providers on our shelf for those guarantees. And the same thing in the insurance side of the business. We have turned up the Dow for variable universal life or disability products as we get focused a little more on the younger part of the population. These are products that, again, were the core of our business a number of years ago and that we're putting more emphasis on as we actually turn off the dial on some of the universal life-type products in this interest rate environment.

So, we feel very good about that. They're good products for the clients. It's good for the company, good returns as well and ones we think are appropriate for the environment. And it does help us de-risk any tail risk for the future. So with that, I'll let Walter handle the capital. And I'll come back with the idea of how we're thinking about the books going forward.

Walter S. Berman
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Ameriprise Financial

Thanks, Jim. So on capital, yes. And obviously, in this environment, a base environment, it will certainly reduce. But the real reduction will come as you're selling less of benefits in stress situation. So it does certainly modulate that from a stress situation a lot more. But that -- and we did stop the sales.

James M. Cracchiolo
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Ameriprise Financial

So overall, for the books, again, what we tried to convey to you last quarter and some of the information we released, as well as some of the details we provided in the past, we actually have very good books of business. Our at risk is very low compared to what you've seen in the industry for various books in the VA category as an example. And so this just continues to add to that differentiation, per se, as we manage to maintain these books.

Now in the environment we're looking, there's been greater levels of activity. They've been namely as the start, just like we did in our fixed annuity reinsurance, mainly moving assets for the general type of account that people want in VAs. They've been deeply discounted books or unique capital requirements that have been sold recently. Our books are very well managed, very low risk, very capital efficient, very strong cash flow generators. So, we are having conversations. We're reviewing as the market evolves. And there's more of an interest strategically in the quality of book that we have in what it will generate for the future for earnings and cash flow for a provider or even from a sales perspective.

So, we will continue to monitor the market, have discussions where appropriate. And it might be, if there's a strategic or a value creation opportunity, both economic and from a shareholder and appropriate for the buyer, as well as for us and our clients, we're very open to entertain that. But I would say that we continue to have very differentiated books, very strong cash flow. Our at risk is very low compared to anyone out there and could easily be managed even in a volatile environment based on our excess capital position or even the call that there might be possibly on the capital, which wouldn't be that significant. So, we feel really good about it.

Erik Bass
Analyst at Autonomous Research

Thank you. Appreciate all the details there. And then if I could ask one follow-up just on the Asset Management margins. Is this the right way to think about it, kind of, a low to mid-40% margin for the business ex-BMO is kind of the baseline entering 2022 and then factoring on a kind of a three to four-point drag from BMO initially and that that would get smaller over time as the expense synergies come through?

Walter S. Berman
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Ameriprise Financial

I think that's a pretty good way of looking at it.

Erik Bass
Analyst at Autonomous Research

Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from Brennan Hawken from UBS.

Brennan Hawken
Analyst at UBS Group

Good morning, thanks for taking my question. I wanted to start with a follow-up on a lot of that great color that you just gave on where you are in the process of selling RiverSource. So you spoke to the differentiated risk profile and that becoming appreciated in the market. I guess is your experience, so far, that the bids you received -- you spoke to receiving bids from both financial buyers, as well as strategics on the October call.

So do those bids align with your view of the lower risk profile? Are they in line with your expectation? And when you consider and have dialogue with private equity or financial buyers, is there interest in the idea that there could be a distribution arrangement to allow for their products to be sold into your wealth distribution channel? And could that be an attractive component for that cohort?

James M. Cracchiolo
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Ameriprise Financial

Let me start, but I have Walter really respond. So I don't know what you mentioned in October. We didn't really put the books out for bid or receive bids on them for the current things. What we did was finalized and did the transaction for the fixed annuity in the summertime. What we are doing is exploring that, having those conversations to see whether the type of books and the type of economic returns we generate would be of interest to various players out there and we are exploring that. But more importantly, we look at that from all aspects, as we've mentioned both strategically, economically and from a client perspective.

I do feel like if someone really is looking for a high quality, something that they can build upon something they want to be in the business for longer term, there would be some good opportunity. This is probably one of the best books you'll have to find out there, probably one of the best type of clients if you want to continue to sell to them for the type of products. So I think as this market that crystallizes, there will be some good opportunities.

I do feel like if someone really is looking for a high quality, something that they can build upon something they want to be in the business for longer term, there would be some good opportunity. This is probably one of the best books you'll have to find out there, probably one of the best type of clients if you want to continue to sell to them for the type of products. So I think as this market that crystallizes, there will be some good opportunities. And we will look at it strategically to see if two and two equals five. And so that's the way we're proceeding. Walter, do you want to say anything on that?

Walter S. Berman
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Ameriprise Financial

Yes. I would say, as Jim has indicated, certainly, people recognize the quality of the book and from that standpoint -- had been given. And from the standpoint, yes, people do look at distribution deals to some of them from that standpoint. So it's a whole potpourri of variables that have gone into discussions.

Brennan Hawken
Analyst at UBS Group

Got it. Thanks for that. And then when we think about cash in the bank, so that saw a nice increase and a bit of an acceleration from the prior pace this quarter. Then clearly, what we've seen in the rate market is an increase in the hawkishness and the outlook and the forward curve. So was the acceleration in transfers of deposits over to the bank due to the improving environment, you have an ability to accelerate the pace ahead of the $3 billion to $5 billion pace per annum that you've previously indicated? And where do reinvestment rates stand within the bank at this point?

Walter S. Berman
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Ameriprise Financial

Sure. So we certainly have the ability, and we certainly have a plan to increase the amount of transfer from balance sheet to on balance sheet as -- and with the current environment and looking at this and especially with the anticipated Fed increase, you can get investment -- high-quality investments the way we do it and go into 100%, so that's an opportunity.

But you also now have the situation because you'll measure it even though we have the capacity; we'll be getting lift coming in on the balance sheet. So -- but yes, the answer is we have capacity, good picking up of yield curve. But now you also get the variable of having higher earnings coming from the off balance sheet on the Fed fund side. So it's going to be an interesting evaluation point. But certainly, it is a positive for us in all aspects.

Brennan Hawken
Analyst at UBS Group

Great, thanks for the color.

Operator

Our next question comes from John Barnidge from Piper Sandler.

John Barnidge
Analyst at Piper Sandler Companies

Thank you very much. I had a question on adviser recruitment, really strong at 2% up year-over-year. Could you, one, talk about maybe average trailing revenue for new advisers versus existing? And then back to your comment about better financial technology being attractive, can you talk about what you have versus where they're coming?

James M. Cracchiolo
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Ameriprise Financial

So from a production level, the quality of our recruits are pretty consistent now with the averages that we've given you. So we have a mix of those advisers, but we also, as part of that mix, have $1 million-plus producers. Teams are very large coming over. But on average, across the entire recruitment spectrum, I would probably put it in the average of our production levels right now, which is good.

I would also say that the survey we did of all the recruits we brought onboard come from a combination of wirehouses and independents, and it was very strong. There's a long detailed list of the questions asked about technology capabilities, tools, thought, branding, marketing, client acquisition, deepening, all that stuff. And very clearly, it was 90% or so in some areas, 90% plus, 95% of how well we were able to support them, give them capabilities to grow, the use of the technology, the technology itself, etc. So we feel really good. And it was from a wide range of people joining us from very good firms as well as independent firms.

John Barnidge
Analyst at Piper Sandler Companies

Thank you for that. My follow-up question. In the deck, it says activity-based expense likely to increase from just more people going out, but you also call out expense discipline. Can you maybe talk a little bit about how certain prior expenses may not be returning at the same time that you do have activity-based increase? Thank you.

James M. Cracchiolo
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Ameriprise Financial

Yes. So we continued -- and I'll let Walter get to the actual expense rate. But we continued even last year and the year before, etc, to invest strongly in the business. And with the technology, with the capabilities, with better analytics, etc, with robotics with AI. So we've been doing a number of things across the firm. We expanded our product set. And so we really feel good about what we've been doing. Yes, we have a level of investments that we will continue to do moving forward. You have to always, sort of, keep up and involve, enhance with the digital capabilities of cybersecurity, things like that. But we feel very capable of managing that. Maybe the level of investment we do this year might be a little less than what we did last year, as an example, that will offset some of the expense that we do see from inflation or wages.

But we think that we'll be very well able to manage that expense against the revenue growth that we have. And we will modulate it. If we feel like the markets have come down a bit, if there's some compression that way, we will look to manage the expense base in a similar fashion. We're doing a lot now around what will the workforce continue to evolve to be, what's hybrid, what's not, what level of travel needs to come back versus not. We know that working digitally and through video does help in various sessions and reduces some of the T&E activities in the travel. But we also feel that is necessary face-to-face meetings and support and group activities. So some of that, yes, will come back in, but we think we'll be able to modulate it okay and have a reasonable expense picture.

John Barnidge
Analyst at Piper Sandler Companies

Thank you very much.

Operator

Our next question comes from Steven Chubak from Wolfe Research.

Steven Chubak
Analyst at Wolfe Research

Hi, good morning. So I wanted to start off just with a follow-up related to the question or a line of questioning around RiverSource. I know you guys had talked about the quality of the book. I was hoping you could speak to with the improving rate backdrop, how that could impact or inform the perceived attractiveness of the asset? And is there any change in demand or interest from the sponsor community just given the improved rate backdrop or how that's informing some of the conversations?

Walter S. Berman
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Ameriprise Financial

Yes. So it's Walter. Yes, the answer is yes, certainly, from the standpoint of long-term care. I'm looking at basically our own book. That would certainly increase the attractiveness that standpoint as people go into -- are you at the base and then the potential of the base. And people -- certainly, it's a lot of people's thinking.

Steven Chubak
Analyst at Wolfe Research

Got it. Okay. And just for my follow-up, I wanted to dig a little bit deeper into your equity market sensitivity. You provide that great disclosure, reflecting the impact of a 10% market correction. I know it's a relatively static analysis. I was hoping you could speak to some of the natural hedges in the business that could mitigate some of those pressures, both in terms of increased retail engagement that you alluded to a bit earlier, and more importantly, the increased allocation to cash as investors look to de-risk their portfolio.

Walter S. Berman
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Ameriprise Financial

Yes. Obviously, listen, these are leverage businesses, if you look at asset management, equity box will have an increased impact. This year, I think, because of what's causing it, the Fed and certainly the potential increase in interest rates that will certainly give us window back on rep accounts and on surge and certainly on yield curve. So that is the other aspect that would be beneficial within it. But that's the area that we would see offsetting it. And then, of course, our ability to adjust our expenses, as Jim has said -- previously done. But as far as yes, people shifting into sweep or in cash and the Fed increases the rates that will certainly.

Steven Chubak
Analyst at Wolfe Research

Walter, thanks very much for taking my questions.

Walter S. Berman
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Ameriprise Financial

You are welcome. Thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from Tom Gallagher from Evercore.

Thomas Gallagher
Analyst at Evercore ISI

Good morning. Just a first question on the economics of the BMO US assets, that almost $17 billion that you had transferred. And I guess you have a couple of billion more that you think might come in 1Q. I just want to make sure I understand how the economics works here. I believe you get close to 30 basis points on the assets. How much of that fee are you sharing with BMO? And what is the alternative for these clients? Meaning like why are they moving their money to Ameriprise at this point? Did the ownership of the US asset management business change hands or a little bit of an explanation for what's going on behind the scenes there? Thanks.

James M. Cracchiolo
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Ameriprise Financial

So what it is, is really these are both retail and institutional accounts. And the clients themselves have made that choice to move over to CTI. In the retail areas, there were some mutual funds adopted. The mutual fund boards made that decision as well. And so clients had a choice. There were other assets and activities that did not move over or that we didn't feel appropriate to move over. But we feel for the ones that we had very good lineup, very good investment capabilities as well as assuming some of theirs that would be great for the clients and good for us. And as far as the revenue type of arrangement, Walter, I'll let you handle that.

Walter S. Berman
Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Ameriprise Financial

Yes. So obviously, on that standpoint you're right on the 30 basis points in that approximate range and there is revenue. But it's economically profitable for us. And we feel comfortable we're certainly taking care of that. But it's good really intent. They've certainly signed on to be with us. And I think, as Jim said, capabilities that we provide.

James M. Cracchiolo
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Ameriprise Financial

Yes. And that was mainly driven by an offset to some of the cost for what they had to do in their current business activities to wind that down, etc. So we feel it was very appropriate for both parties.

Thomas Gallagher
Analyst at Evercore ISI

Okay. Okay. Thanks. And is the revenue share of 50-50? Or are you keeping the majority of the fee?

James M. Cracchiolo
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Ameriprise Financial

I think it's reasonable. It's certainly -- I'm asking, I don't want to get into the terms. But it is certainly, I think, a good transaction.

Thomas Gallagher
Analyst at Evercore ISI

Okay. And then just a follow-up on the whole process for, I guess, what you're doing with the Life and Retirement business. Based on what I've heard you describe, it sounds like this is a pretty comprehensive process. And by that, I'm just assuming it's probably going to take the full year of 2022 for this whole thing to play out. Is that fair from a timing and process standpoint?

James M. Cracchiolo
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Ameriprise Financial

What I would say there is that, first of all we've listened to you as the analysts, investors, etc. I spoke to my Board. We're doing a thorough analysis in regard to evaluating our business. What we love about the business and what we tried to explain to you as the analysts and investors that this is a very good business built over many decades, very solid books of business, very consistent books of business. Mostly all to my clients, who actually take these solutions against their planning activities for their retirement, etc. And so we are very comfortable with the books. We're very comfortable with the risk profile. We're very comfortable with the economic returns. I mean when you generate a 50% ROE and you have this balance sheet business and a strong excess capital; you can see how those returns are quite good and don't negatively impact the business.

And with that, the free cash flow we use to buy back stock, which helps us just like to generate the free cash flow from the other asset-light businesses that go along with that. So it's not a -- where some others had to get rid of this business, they needed capital. They had a long tail risk that they needed to get out of to invest in their other businesses. That's not our issue. So what we're looking at is to say, this is what we have. If that can add and someone can do better with it, we manage -- we invest it short. If they can have other opportunities with their capital structure, with their investment structure, that's appropriate. If in a certain sense that they're interested in growing the business or want those capabilities or this would add a quality dimension to what they're doing and the values there, we're very open to explore that.

In things like long-term care even, we haven't invested out in that book. There's a lot of opportunities for someone coming in to do something like that if they wanted to other types of investments they could make. So that's what we're exploring. Yes, it will take probably a while. But I think the market is continuing to evolve. There's a lot of money out there and there's some strategic players that might be interested. So we're having conversations. We're very open to that dialogue, and we'll explore it. If something is there, we will proceed. If it's not, we feel very comfortable maintaining the books.

Thomas Gallagher
Analyst at Evercore ISI

That's very helpful, Jim. Just one final follow-up, if I could. I guess the perception in the market that I hear right now is that lower-quality variable annuity books have generally gotten pretty good bids, like better prices than most investors were expecting. We have not yet tested the market with higher quality books. Yours would certainly fit that bill. It's much better quality, I think, on most measures than a lot of the other ones out there?

And so the concern is that there may not be the same level of attractiveness of bids on the higher-quality books. But I guess you'll be the test case of that. Do you have any sense for whether at least even very initial price discussions you've had would appreciate the quality of your book and give you, we'll say, proper value for that? Or is it just too early to tell?

James M. Cracchiolo
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Ameriprise Financial

So you're 100% right in your sort of look at the idea of what's been sold out there or what's been done so far. And we would definitely be on the quality end of the any spectrum. Now having said that, what I would say is I think there is an interest as people think about long-term flows and where they want to put money to work over many years and having that quality as well. But it's a little different. It's not deep in the money, discount at it's not just the general account, there's variable accounts, etc.

But I actually believe that as people start to evolve their thinking or appropriate -- or strategic players have more of an appetite again, I do believe there might be some good opportunities that could be a win-win. But yes, I think those things are forming. That's why we're having conversations as the marketplace evolves and as people get a better understanding of how to differentiate. So that's what I would say, but that's a positive. That's not a negative. And as I said, I think you looking at our returns, our cash flow, etc, that's more of -- we will make the right decision for shareholders. If that comes along tomorrow with the next day, we'll see. But I feel good about it.

Thomas Gallagher
Analyst at Evercore ISI

Great. Thanks a lot.

Operator

Our next question comes from Andrew Kligerman from Credit Suisse.

Andrew Kligerman
Analyst at Credit Suisse Group

Hey, thank you. What I made it in. Question around advice and wealth management, where wrap net flows for another record $10.5 billion, four quarters in a row above $9 billion. And yet, just two years ago, before the pandemic, I think most investors would have been happy seeing somewhere in the $4 billion to $5 billion range. So the question is, what's kind of changed here? And is this the new normal?

James M. Cracchiolo
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Ameriprise Financial

So Andrew, as we would probably say we do feel like we are and have been able to generate more flows through our client base and our adviser. Our adviser productivity has picked up. Our capabilities are we feel very good and very strong even as I've mentioned, in advisers that we recruit in. We've been able then to really get more clients appropriately, move up market actually to deepen those relationships quite well with the technology and the capabilities and the relationship management tools we've been giving them.

We're actually adding to that as we go forward with the use of AI and capabilities looking at further opportunities, segments of the book that they can even focused on even more appropriately. So we feel good that we have been helping them pick up a level of that activity. And that has translated to the flows that you're seeing. Our client acquisition was up strongly this year, including in the segment that we really wanted to grow, which is the $500 million -- the $5 million category. We're starting to work on moving even further up market to higher net worth.

We're also focused on some of the younger generation as we bring in through the remote and the digital capabilities that we've been investing in. We're also -- as we develop our product solutions, our integrated wrap programs and how they can move money and do it across multiple types of their portfolios for our clients and how we're looking at that. And we're developing a new retirement solution for the long-term for them to optimize returns for the clients and longevity income.

So I feel really good about what we've been able to do is help advisors grow and the flow picture that, that will result in. Of course, yes, as I said last year, markets always helped a little bit when there's a positive environment. So that's part of the base. So I can't tell you regarding volatility and other things, whether that will slow down a little bit. But I think the base of activity is much stronger than it was two years ago and three years ago because of what we've been doing.

Andrew Kligerman
Analyst at Credit Suisse Group

Got it. And I think that helps somewhat with my second question. But I looked at your adviser count. I was just checking my model and I look in 2016 advisor count is down 1% and then 2017 is up 2%. It was flat in 2018, down 1% in 2019, up 1% in 2020. And then this year, it's up 2%.

In a business, Jim, that advisors in general appear to be in secular decline, do you think you could kind of at least grow -- continue to grow in the low single-digits? Or is it going to be very tough? And the answer to the prior question was great. And you mentioned that 90% that we're very happy with the technology. What about the other 10%? Why were they not that happy?

James M. Cracchiolo
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer at Ameriprise Financial

Well, it wasn't that they weren't that happy. What we had asked them is across all these dimensions. So that's why I said there are a number of things that were above the 90%. And above all the things we asked them, whether we gave them and the capabilities to support the brand, etc, help them grow better, work with clients better, help them get better client satisfaction, all those things, grow their businesses. And so that's like an unbelievable. So that's nine times out of 10.

Now there might be certain things in certain firms, but certain of those activities might have been good or the technology for that capability might have been good or solutions that they provided. So it's not like we're going to be best in everything. But when you get nine out of 10 across a whole bunch of dimensions, I would say we were very pleased. And I think that you'll find -- I don't know if you'll find that with other firms recruiting people in -- so I'd be interested.

What I would tell you is as we look at the business, we do feel good about our ability to continue that along those lines. Now as far as the number of people, there are people out there that have been buying up networks and growing in advisors. And it doesn't matter what their productivity level is, it doesn't matter what they -- how they want to do business, etc. We don't really want to play that game. We feel if we can bring in good quality people, if we could help them grow their productivity and if I can grow to productivity across 10,000 advisors and I can replenish that and grow at 1%, 2%, 3%, I'll do really well and I'll continue to give a very strong client value proposition.

My client satisfaction is 4.9 out of 5. I mean that, to me, makes it a branded value proposition is adding value to clients, adding productivity to advisors. And I got a really good branded company that I think is valued more than just an independent or someone on a process or a network and giving them technology support. So that's really what we're focused on.

Andrew Kligerman
Analyst at Credit Suisse Group

Very helpful. Thanks.

Operator

[Operator Closing Remarks]

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