New York Life Insurance Company announced Monday first-quarter gains in sales of life insurance, income annuities, long-term care insurance and mutual funds, as well as a solid double-digit increase in the number of new agents hired in the first three months of 2011.

Life Insurance and Long-Term Care Insurance Sales Driven by Consumer Demand for Protection

Individual life insurance sales increased 24 percent through March, while applications for life insurance are up 12.7 percent, compared with the first quarter of 2010. Life insurance sales by the company’s 11,900 agents were particularly strong – up 29 percent , the best three-month start to a year on record.

“We’re gratified by our continued strong sales growth, because it is evidence that we are helping to address the very real problem of underinsurance in the United States today,” said Mark Pfaff, executive vice president in charge of U.S. Life and Agency.

Recent studies show that the percentage of households that own life insurance has fallen to a 50-year low. Pfaff cites two factors contributing to New York Life’s record growth. “First, the company’s continued financial strength – evident in our more than $16 billion in surplus – represents peace of mind for consumers, who increasingly know that it matters with whom you do business.”

The second factor, according to Pfaff, is consumers’ recognition that they need trusted guidance when it comes to making crucial financial decisions. “Our agents are finding that families and businesses are welcoming them to their kitchen tables, board rooms, and offices to provide the knowledge and advice they seek.”

Sales of long-term care insurance have also increased by a robust 16 percent  for the first quarter this year, following a strong 12 percent  gain in 2010.

“Americans recognize that they need to take personal responsibility for their long-term care needs, and increasingly they are making New York Life their long-term care insurance company of choice,” said Mike Gallo, senior vice president in charge of Long-Term Care Insurance operations. Gallo notes that the long-term care insurance market has seen a lot of turmoil in recent years, with many companies raising rates and others exiting the market entirely.

Income Annuity Sales and Mutual Fund Sales See Significant Gains

New York Life remains the leader in sales of fixed immediate annuities, with more than 25 percent  of the market, according to an industry source. The company’s sales of these guaranteed lifetime income products surged 45 percent  in the first quarter, with strong gains in both sales through agents and sales through other financial institutions with which New York Life partners.

Sales of New York Life’s mutual funds (including the company’s MainStay family of funds) increased by 77 percent  year over year in the first quarter.

Chris Blunt, executive vice president in charge of Retirement Income Security, attributes the sales gains in large part to the funds’ performance. “In all our distribution channels, customers have come to recognize the strong line-up of funds managed by our investment management subsidiary,” said Blunt. “Our strong fund sales also benefited from a strong performance from our excellent field support teams, who provide support for our agents and advisors,” he said.

In Barron’s ranking of mutual fund families, MainStay Funds ranked third out of 46 fund families for the 10-year period ended December 31, 2010 − the second year in a row that MainStay commanded the number three spot.

Field Force Increases Nationwide

New York Life boasts it’s on track to continue hiring new agents despite high unemployment rates. The company reports it appointed more than 3,300 agents last year and is on pace to exceed its goal of recruiting 3,500 agents this year. Agent recruitment is up more than 15 percent for the first three months of 2011 compared to the same period in 2010.

“Our new recruits recognize quickly that the demand for agents has never been greater, and by choosing a career with New York Life, they are able to provide a truly valuable service to members of their local community,” said Rich Simonetti, vice president in charge of recruiting. “New York Life is committed to a robust, continued investment in our agents through continuing education and career development, which empowers our agents to partner with families and businesses in their community to build a brighter tomorrow for loved ones.”