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Aflac expecting tough Q1 for US sales

Aflac Inc. executives were disappointed in U.S. sales results for 2016, but they still expect the business to achieve its long-term compound annual growth rate of 3% to 5%.

New annualized premium sales for Aflac U.S. fell 2.9% to $483 million in the fourth quarter of 2016 and declined 0.3% to $1.5 billion for the year.

Despite the long-term optimism, 2017 will see "a tough first quarter," Aflac U.S. President Teresa White said on a Feb. 1 earnings call. She noted "short-term disruption" caused by agent turnover. Aflac implemented a performance management program in late 2014 tying compensation to sales growth. White said the company is focused on improving the productivity of new recruits.

The broker business saw sales shrink in the middle-market segment, while sales to groups with more than 1,000 employees saw double-digit growth. Sales to groups with fewer than 100 employees were flat. White said Aflac "made a conscious decision" to be more selective in sales of group products.

Asked about the implications of political and regulatory uncertainty in the U.S. health insurance landscape, White said there is not yet evidence to indicate that it will impact sales. "There's a lot of talk about it," the executive said, adding that "it's still early yet."