Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin and state leaders raise concern about continued push by Chubb to acquire The Hartford

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Kenneth R. Gosselin, Hartford Courant
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Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin sent up a flare Friday, warning he — and likely many others — would have “serious concerns” if acquisition talks targeting The Hartford Financial Services Group heated up again after the insurer this week insisted it intended to remain independent.

“From my perspective, the statement that was issued by The Hartford’s board of directors was very strong and clear in expressing their view that this transaction is not in the best interest of shareholders,” Bronin said. “I and, I think, many others, would have significant questions about whether than transaction would be in the public interest.”

After nearly a week of stock gyrations, speculation and finally, The Hartford confirming it had received an acquisition offer from larger rival Chubb Ltd., The Hartford — a major employer and philanthropist in the capital city — said Tuesday it had rejected Chubb’s unsolicited offer.

The Hartford, which employs 6,100 in Connecticut and thousands at its headquarters in Hartford’s Asylum Hill, “reaffirmed its commitment and resolve in the continued execution of The Hartford’s strategic business plan” as an stand-alone company.

Bronin’s comments Friday came at the end of a news conference on the further reopening of the city’s public schools in the pandemic. In an interview, Bronin said the importance of having a company like The Hartford in the city and state cannot be overstated.

“The power and significance of having a company like The Hartford headquartered here goes far beyond the name and the flag,” said Bronin, who once worked as a lawyer at The Hartford. “It includes a deep commitment to philanthropy and community economic development as well as growing jobs here in Connecticut and supporting the city and state’s economic development efforts in so many ways.

Separately, Hartford Democrat Matt Ritter, the legislature’s Speaker of the House, said Friday he is concerned that Chubb could continue to pursue an acquisition. The Hartford, Ritter said, has been a strong corporate citizen.

“We would certainly have to look at what the offer is, if they do enter into a merger,” Ritter said. “But our insurance statutes govern how we review these acquisitions or mergers. And if, I think personally, if I feel as if there is going to be a merger and there is not a strong, strong commitment to Hartford in its future, I would be not be opposed to changing our insurance statutes, if need be.”

Ritter said criteria used to review mergers and acquisitions could be strengthened, though it is possible legal issues might have to be worked out as part of the process.

The prospect of a takeover of The Hartford, founded in the capital city in 1810 and still bears its name, has stoked worries about job loss coming on top of uncertainty about when or how many workers will return to offices in downtown Hartford once the pandemic eases.

An acquisition of The Hartford also could alter philanthropy and civic involvement by executive and rank-and-file employees in the local community. On Friday, Bronin praised the insurer as a “tremendous partner.”

Many, including Gov. Ned Lamont, view The Hartford’s rejection of Chubb’s offer as only the beginning of further negotiations between the two property-casualty insurers.

Although Lamont said he feels “very strongly” that The Hartford belongs in Hartford, Lamont, a business owner, observed earlier this week: “Just wait and see. You’re going to see a variety of different dance steps over the course of the next weeks or even months.”

Wall Street analysts, who track publicly-traded companies for investors, say they also expect further negotiations between the insurers, amid on-going consolidation in the U.S. insurance markets. The Hartford, analyst say, would bring Chubb a strong small business and AARP portfolio of business.

Contact Kenneth R. Gosselin at kgosselin@courant.com.