New York Life Insurance Co. announced strong 2010 financial results, strengthening its standing as one a post-recession winner in its industry.

The company had record operating earnings of $1.4 billion, and it set records for insurance and investment sales. As a mutual insurer with a conservative product profile and investment approach, New York Life was better positioned to endure the market crash and recession better than its publicly traded brethren, says Clark Troy, research director at Aite Group, LLC.

“They are not subject to the vagaries of the equities markets, and they came through the crisis well,” he says. “I think the company’s continued success can be at least partly put down to the fact that it’s continued to be able to market and leverage this strength.”

New York Life’s total insurance sales exceeded $3 billion last year, an increase of 15% over 2009 and a new record for the company. U.S. Life Insurance led the way with a 26% increase.

Meanwhile, total investment sales exceeded $35 billion, a jump of 6.7% over 2009 and another record. The company’s assets under management reached a record $316 billion, a 10.2% increase from 2009.

Its operating earnings of $1.4 billion were up 21% from 2009, exceeding the record result set in 2008. Those earnings came on operating revenue of $15.5 billion, which was up 7.7% over 2009 and was a record. Underlining its strength, the company added $1.8 billion to surplus, for a total—yes, it was a record—of $16.8 billion. The surplus serves as a safety cushion for NY Life’s policyholders.

The company attributed much of its sales growth to the expansion of its agent force. Its agent corps has grown 32 percent since 2005 at a time when the number of agents industry-wide has been in decline.

The insurance agent population industry wide has been in decline in large part because it’s retiring, says Troy. The average agent age is now 56, he notes. And while that age is well suited to selling to older people, younger consumers are more likely to avoid agents altogether.

“Generation Y and the younger Gen X-ers are more self directed and less likely to buy through agents in aggregate,” says Troy. “Financial intermediaries generally speaking have found that demographic has been a tougher nut to crack.”

As for NY Life’s agent growth, Troy notes that in the depths of the recession, the insurance field started to look pretty good to job hunters who might have once considered it dowdy. NY Life, with its solid reputation and financial strength, would have seemed like a good destination, he says.

“Back then, anything to earn money was a good thing,” he says.