(Adds comment from Sandler O'Neill analyst John Barnidge)
By Suzanne Barlyn
NEWARK, N.J., Sept 4 (Reuters) - Prudential Financial Inc is going straight to consumers with its insurance and investment products for the first time in its 143-year history, a move that follows rivals and startups which are already well established in the field.
The direct-to-consumer service marks a sea change for Newark, New Jersey-based Prudential, the largest U.S. life insurance company by assets, managing $1.4 trillion, according to a filing.
Prudential is also one the oldest U.S. insurance and investment companies, which has traditionally sold its products through a large network of advisers as well as employer-sponsored insurance and retirement plans.
Prudential quietly unveiled the service, LINK by Prudential, in August, which offers personalized financial planning, recommendations for insurance, annuities and investments in a portfolio of exchange-traded funds, Prudential executives said in an interview.
Customers can buy products through the LINK website, through remote advisers, or set up one-on-one meetings with local advisers.
The shift, which comes long after insurance and financial services competitors have established an online presence and dozens of online life insurance startups have sprouted up, is an effort to balance a growing demand for online sales, without alienating the sales force that has played a large role in building the company.
Prudential's advisers continue to play a "critical role" in the company's success, said Stephen Pelletier, chief operating officer of Prudential’s U.S.-based businesses.
"Given where the investing world is going, this makes sense," said Sandler O'Neill analyst John Barnidge, noting that the service is just one piece of Prudential's multifaceted business. "Millennials and other younger people have large purchasing power," Barnidge said, adding that they do not value insurance agent relationships as much as previous generations.
The company's service differs from others sold direct to consumers because it offers a more "seamless experience," with customers able to get advice and buy both insurance and financial products from the same site, or choose from different levels of advisory services, said Naveen Agarwal, Prudential's chief customer officer.
Prudential’s goals also include finding new ways to grow business from customers it now serves through existing businesses. The insurer and investment company already works with 5 million customers who buy its insurance, income and investment products through Prudential's adviser network.
Prudential will also make the service available to 20 million people through workplace businesses, including retirement plans and pension payments it took over from other companies that bought group annuities, Pelletier said. (Reporting by Suzanne Barlyn Editing by Leslie Adler and Jonathan Oatis)