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By Jeffrey Rothfeder  |  Posted 10-15-2004 Print Email
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Venerable MetLife Inc. is going on 140 years old, while Robert Benmosche has been chief executive for just six. Yet despite Benmosche's short tenure, the projects he has put in place—intended to transform the $35.8 billion company from a leader in the old-fashioned, door-to-door world of selling insurance to a high-tech, high-response, fully networked financial services giant—have the potential to change the face of MetLife more than any other effort in its long history.

Benmosche had to do something. When he first arrived at MetLife—in 1995, as executive vice president—he had just concluded a 14-year stint as systems operation chief at PaineWebber Group Inc., where he installed a $75 million trading system upgrade that gave more than 5,000 brokers access to financial data and analytical tools unlike any they had before. But MetLife was on a different course. Throughout much of the early 1990s, MetLife was distracted by a scandal involving overly aggressive insurance sales practices that would eventually cost the company nearly $2 billion in fines and penalties. Return on assets—a good measure of an insurer's health, because its assets are, in great measure, its policies—hit a disturbingly low 0.1 percent in 1994 and was still wallowing at 0.5 percent two years later, compared with an industry average most years of about 0.8 percent to 1 percent. If MetLife was going to be ready to take advantage of new opportunities that were expected to come with the 1999 repeal of the New Deal-era Glass-Steagall Act, which prohibited companies from engaging in banking, securities and insurance simultaneously, it had to catch up to the modern world of financial services quickly. As Benmosche told The Wall Street Journal, before he was hired, MetLife "did not have some of the skills necessary to compete in a new arena."

With that in mind, Benmosche has led an aggressive corporate overhaul. In order to expand its product lines, MetLife acquired New England Mutual Life Insurance in 1996 to gain a better foothold among higher-asset, middle-class customers, and bought Security First Group, which specializes in annuities for public employees, in 1997. The company made its most critical acquisition when it purchased Kingston, N.J., Grand Bank in 2000 to debut its retail banking operations. To finance the deals, MetLife went public in 2000 in a $2.8 billion IPO. Benmosche also recast MetLife's advertising approach from touting the benefits of life insurance to presenting a more sophisticated financial appeal—the Snoopy mascot notwithstanding—that plays up investment, estate planning and long-term care services.

Company Profile
Company | MetLife Inc.
Corporate Headquarters | New York City
Executive Vice President of Operations and Technology | Daniel Cavanagh
Description | Provider of insurance and other financial services—including life insurance, annuities, automobile and homeowner's insurance, mutual funds and retirement products—to individual and institutional customers.
Revenues | $37.7 billion (trailing twelve months)
Operating Income | $2.59 billion (TTM)
Stock performance | 52 week high-low: $40.36 $29.25 Oct. 8: $38.53

Source: Metlife; Yahoo! Finance

In what may have been his most telling move, Benmosche appointed Daniel Cavanagh executive vice president of operations and technology in 1999—just below Benmosche on the corporate masthead—and, according to published reports, gave him a budget of nearly $1 billion to create a modern data management network that could connect the vast number of systems gained through acquisition, or that existed independently in MetLife business unit silos for dozens of years.

Among the most intriguing efforts to come out of this initiative is the beginning of an enterprisewide client information file (in MetLife lingo, a CIF) that for the first time will make a centralized customer database available to MetLife units for cross-selling and pitching new business, handling service issues, and managing accounts. For a company that has grown big and successful through the efforts of individual insurance salespeople knocking on doors or sitting in tiny strip-mall offices, this attempt to connect all of MetLife's business lines and to treat customers like shared corporate assets is a huge culture shift, which the company is still grappling with.

"This is a totally unique project for an insurer," says Todd Eyler, an insurance analyst and vice president at META Group Inc. Eyler notes that most insurers are building data warehouses to store their extensive records, but remain unable to generate cross-company business opportunities or look at a customer holistically. "MetLife, unlike other companies, is monetizing the customer and making customer files the foundation of new transactions."


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