MetLife to sell its U.S. retail adviser force, affecting about 200 in Charlotte

In this April 16, 2009, file photo, the MetLife building overlooks a shorter building in New York.
In this April 16, 2009, file photo, the MetLife building overlooks a shorter building in New York. AP

Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance confirmed Monday it is buying MetLife’s U.S. retail adviser force, which includes an operation that employs about 200 at MetLife’s retail headquarters in south Charlotte.

MetLife is seeking to sell the force as part of the insurer’s plan to separate itself from a large portion of its U.S. retail business, which employs about 1,500 in a hub in Ballantyne Corporate Park. On Monday, New York-based MetLife reaffirmed plans to keep the separated company headquartered in Charlotte.

The companies said the approximately $300 million purchase of MetLife Premier Client Group will involve roughly 4,000 advisers and 40 sales offices across the U.S., as well as support staff. The advisers sell a range of products, including life insurance and annuities.

MetLife initially disclosed on Thursday that it was in talks with MassMutual. On Monday, MetLife said MassMutual will make employment or brokerage offers to all of the advisers and brokers, as well as to those who support them.

MetLife said it expects a “significant” number of the advisers, brokers and employees will join MassMutual.

A portion of the impacted employees work in Ballantyne, where MetLife Premier Client Group of the Carolinas is part of the hub the company established in exchange for millions of dollars in state incentives awarded in 2013.

Under the North Carolina incentives, MetLife could receive as much as $87.2 million over 12 years in exchange for opening the Charlotte hub and opening a separate technology hub in Cary. In June, MetLife announced that it had met its goals of creating more than 2,600 total jobs across the hubs.

The city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County also approved roughly $3 million in incentives for MetLife, which occupies Ballantyne’s Gragg and Woodward office buildings.

The potential sale to MassMutual has caused some of MetLife’s Charlotte employees to worry about the future of their jobs. Some MetLife employees relocated from across the U.S. to go to work at the Charlotte hub, where MetLife’s consolidated its retail operations led by Executive Vice President Eric Steigerwalt.

In an interview Monday, Michael Fanning, executive vice president of MassMutual’s U.S. insurance group, said it was too early to discuss the Springfield, Mass., company’s plans for the Charlotte employees it will acquire from MetLife.

One of MassMutual’s subsidiaries, Babson Capital Management, already has a presence in Charlotte, where it houses most of its senior leadership in uptown’s Duke Energy Center. Babson plans to relocate its headquarters from Springfield to a new tower under construction at 300 S. Tryon St.

The MassMutual deal is expected to close by mid-2016 and is subject to regulatory approval.

The sale comes as MetLife is pursuing a plan announced in January to break away from much of its U.S. retail business to avoid higher capital requirements that came when the company was labeled a non-bank systemically important financial institution in 2014.

Steven Kandarian, MetLife CEO, said in a statement Monday the MassMutual purchase allows MetLife to decouple from the business of distributing retail products, which MetLife will continue to manufacture. In doing so, “our U.S. retail business will be more agile, and both MetLife and the U.S. retail business can achieve significant cost savings,” Kandarian said.

Under the agreement, MetLife’s U.S. retail business will be the exclusive developers of certain annuity products issued by MassMutal.

Deon Roberts: 704-358-5248, @DeonERoberts