Symetra Life Unit Follows Harbinger Insurer in Iowa Shift

Symetra Financial Corp., the insurer that counts Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. among its top investors, filed for a life unit to be regulated in Iowa as the firm seeks favorable standards on accounting and reserves.

The subsidiary plans to switch its legal domicile from Washington state, the company said today in a statement. Symetra plans to open an office in Des Moines and hire as many as 40 employees over the next two to four years while maintaining headquarters in Bellevue, Washington, according to the statement.

The application was “driven by a complex, challenging and quickly changing regulatory environment,” Chief Executive Officer Tom Marra said in the statement. The change will allow the company to “take advantage of the state-of-the-art statutes and regulations governing the life insurance industry in Iowa, where some of the industry’s biggest players are domiciled.”

Symetra joins Fidelity & Guaranty Life Insurance Co., run by Philip Falcone’s Harbinger Group Inc., in opting for Iowa. Fidelity said in November it had moved from Maryland after an investment plan was rejected by regulators in that state. MetLife Inc., Principal Financial Group Inc. and ING Groep NV are among insurers that operate Iowa-regulated units, Fidelity said at the time.

‘Level Playing Field’

Being in Iowa will provide a “level playing field” with rivals related to reserves, accounting and reinsurance rules, Diana McSweeney, a spokeswoman for the company, said in a phone interview.

Symetra has advanced 42 percent in the past year in New York trading, trailing the 48 percent gain at MetLife and the 66 percent rally at Principal.

Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler is “glad to see that the firm is maintaining its corporate offices and employees in Washington state,” his office said in an e-mailed statement. “He also wishes the company well in Iowa.”