Charlotte’s newest public company, spun off from MetLife, begins trading

Brighthouse Financial employees ring the Nasdaq opening bell August 7, 2017, in New York’s Times Square, on the Charlotte-based company’s first day of trading.
Brighthouse Financial employees ring the Nasdaq opening bell August 7, 2017, in New York’s Times Square, on the Charlotte-based company’s first day of trading. Photo courtesy of Brighthouse Financial

Brighthouse Financial, the Charlotte-based company created by MetLife’s spin off of its U.S. retail operations, began trading Monday – culminating a slim-down effort by MetLife that started more than a year ago.

Eric Steigerwalt, Brighthouse’s chief executive, and MetLife CEO Steve Kandarian marked the occasion by ringing the Nasdaq opening bell Monday in New York’s Times Square. Steigerwalt returned to Charlotte later in the day in time to help ring the closing bell from the company’s Ballantyne headquarters.

The spinoff, completed Friday, follows MetLife’s January 2016 announcement that it planned to shed much of its retail business in an effort to decrease its size and limit federal capital requirements as it grappled with low interest rates.

In an interview Monday, Steigerwalt told the Observer that Brighthouse plans to add employees in Charlotte as part of a plan to grow the new firm’s U.S. workforce by 200 to 300 people.

Brighthouse currently employs about 1,200 nationwide, including in New York, Boston, Florida and New Jersey. Of those, about 750 are in Charlotte, according to the firm. The majority of the new hires will be in Charlotte, said Steigerwalt, who relocated from New Jersey to run the retail hub MetLife decided to open in Charlotte in 2013.

“We’re in hiring mode now,” Steigerwalt said.

For its part, MetLife has said it intends to keep the separated company headquartered in Charlotte, which it picked to consolidate its U.S. retail operations in exchange for state and local incentives. Those headquarters house about 1,500 people in two office towers in Ballantyne Corporate Park, MetLife has said.

Monday marked a rough debut for Brighthouse shares, which closed down more than 4 percent at $61.72 on a day when major indices rose.

“The stock will do what it will do,” Steigerwalt said, declining to speculate on the reasons for Monday’s performance. “Our job is to consistently grow and add value.”

Part of MetLife’s strategy in the spinoff was to shed products, such as individual life insurance and annuities, that have weighed on MetLife’s performance in an era when rates remain super-low. Steigerwalt said that while he’d prefer rates to be higher, “we will deal with it. That’s our job.”

He said one way Brighthouse is seeking to improve its financial performance is by cutting roughly $150 million in costs. A lot of those reductions, which won’t begin until 2020, will be achieved though information technology initiatives, he said. The company will also look to shed consultants, as opposed to eliminating jobs, he said.

Brighthouse has about $219 billion of total assets and more than 2.7 million annuity contracts and life insurance policies. The company, which began doing business under its own name in March, is being traded under the symbol “BHF.”

Deon Roberts: 704-358-5248, @DeonERoberts