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Conseco May Change Name to “CNO Financial Group”

The downtown Indianapolis landscape was forever changed when the Conseco Fieldhouse replaced the aging Market Square Arena. Not long thereafter Stephen C. Hilbert, co-founder and then-CEO of Conseco Inc., stated, “Experience from other companies indicates that naming sponsorships build national name recognition more quickly than any other form of advertising.”  It was near the end of 1999 and Conseco stock was trading in the high $50s.

Fast-forward 11 years and how things have changed. That, in part, is because Conseco will seek to change its name. The company has reported on its website that it will “ask shareholders at their annual meeting on May 11, 2010 to approve a change in the holding company’s name to CNO Financial Group, Inc. (‘CNO’).” According to the news release, the change will affect neither its operations in the insurance business nor its structure of ownership.

In an interview with the Indiana Business Journal Conseco CEO Jim Prieur remarked, “Conseco is sort of a funny name anyway. People always ask, ‘What is a Conseco?’ or they say, ‘Is it the baseball player company?’” “They” are, of course, referring to former Oakland A’s hitter Jose Canseco, apparently unaware of the subtle difference in spelling.

But misconceptions aside, the Conseco name was no doubt tarnished in 2002 when the company underwent a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.  The 1998 purchase of mobile home financing company Green Tree Financial had finally caught up with Conseco.  When the company emerged from bankruptcy in 2003 it had divested itself from Green Tree and emerged with a singular focus on insurance.

Now, 2010, Jim Prieur says, “Over the past three years, CNO has significantly improved its financial stability and sharply focused its business strategy.” According to Prieur, a real transformation can be seen in the corporate culture.  Now, employees are encouraged to engage with company leadership on all levels and people are promoted from within the organization.  Now, the emphasis is on the customer and not the product.  Prieur goes on to say that making an honest effort to serve the middle-income market, combined with good execution, will help grow the company and create lasting value. He also feels the company has become both flexible enough and sufficiently recapitalized to weather financial storms should they arise.

If approved, the name change would entail a corresponding renaming of the Conseco Fieldhouse to one that incorporates at least part of the new name “CNO Financial Group, Inc.”  Conseco’s $40 million, 20-year contract for the naming rights, under which 11 years have elapsed, allows it to change the name associated with the basketball arena.

In the end, Conseco believes the move will reestablish awareness of the company’s undiluted focus on insurance. A lot of history has been made over the past 11 years and as far as Conseco is concerned much of it would be better forgotten.  Indeed, the name “Conseco” is much more strongly associated with the word “Fieldhouse” than “insurance”.  To try and break this indelible association through clever commercials just isn’t realistic. So what better way to create an awareness of the company’s newly distilled focus than by renaming itself, and by extension, the basketball arena.  Going to see the Indiana Pacers play basketball at the Conseco Fieldhouse is just one of 365 things to do in Indianapolis.  In the very near future, it may be a thing of the past—the name, that is.