Bank Watch

Possible sale of MetLife adviser force worries Charlotte employees

MetLife’s potential sale of its U.S. adviser force will impact an operation that employs roughly 200 in the New York-based insurer’s new retail headquarters in south Charlotte, a source familiar with the matter said Friday.
MetLife’s potential sale of its U.S. adviser force will impact an operation that employs roughly 200 in the New York-based insurer’s new retail headquarters in south Charlotte, a source familiar with the matter said Friday. AP

MetLife’s potential sale of its U.S. adviser force will impact an operation that employs roughly 200 in the New York-based insurer’s retail headquarters in south Charlotte, a source familiar with the matter said Friday.

Roughly 30 financial advisers and about 175 others work for MetLife Premier Client Group of the Carolinas, housed in two office towers in Ballantyne Corporate Park. On Thursday, the New York-based company announced it is in discussions with Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance about a possible sale of the unit, a business that employs about 4,000 advisers nationwide.

One MetLife employee who works in the Carolinas group said Friday the deal has him worried about potentially losing his job.

“The rumors are out there that the deal is finalized,” said the employee, who asked not to be identified. “We’ve heard MassMutual wants to make Charlotte a top priority. What that means, I really don’t know yet.”

The move follows MetLife’s announcement of plans last month to shed much of its Charlotte-based U.S. retail business. MetLife said it was pursuing the move in an effort to avoid higher capital requirements that came when it was labeled a non-bank systemically important financial institution in 2014.

On Friday, MetLife declined to comment on what selling its adviser force would mean for its Charlotte hub, where in April the company said total employment stood at more than 1,500.

In 2013, North Carolina awarded the company incentive grants that could total much as $87.2 million over 12 years in exchange for establishing the Charlotte hub and opening a separate technology hub in Cary. MetLife announced in June that it had met its goals to create more than 2,600 total jobs across the hubs.

The possible separation of MetLife’s U.S. retail operation has brought uncertainty to the Charlotte hub, where Peanuts characters are part of the decor and employees are encouraged to scribble ideas on the walls. According to a regulatory filing Thursday, MetLife’s lease in Ballantyne Corporate Park runs until 2026.

MetLife has said it plans to keep the separated company headquartered in Charlotte. It has also noted that there is no guarantee that the MassMutual purchase will take place.

The Charlotte employee who asked not to be named said he’s upset that local lawmakers have not done more to fight MetLife’s systemically important designation.

“The direct action that you’re seeing now is a result from lack of leadership from our congressmen who said they would do everything in their power to help us out,” he said.

The employee said he was already living in Charlotte when MetLife opened the hub. But other employees who relocated from across the country to work in the hub are frustrated not knowing what the future holds, he said.

“I work with a lot of people who have recently moved,” he said. “I feel their pain.”

U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, a Republican who represents the Charlotte region, said Congress has no control over whether a company receives a systemically important label, a title also held by big banks such as Bank of America. The designations are issued by the Financial Stability Oversight Council.

That panel was established under the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law. The goal of the law was to boost capital levels and implement other controls at the biggest banks in order to prevent another financial crisis.

Pittenger, who has been critical of the designation for MetLife, in December introduced legislation seeking more transparency into the council. One option under the proposal would require voting members of the council to publicly testify before Congress at least twice each year.

The ramifications MetLife’s designation might have on Charlotte illustrate the harm being done by Dodd-Frank regulations to the U.S. economy, he said.

“It’s been the most disastrous legislation for our economy we could ever had,” Pittenger said.

The MassMutual deal would see MetLife part ways with its life insurance agents, marking the end of an era for the company that launched in 1868, before the telephone had been invented. For years, its army of salespeople went door to door collecting premiums, an approach that contributed to its growth into an insurance giant.

The Premier Client Group focuses on middle- to upper-income consumers, including company executives and small business owners.

MassMutual declined to comment Friday beyond a previously issued statement confirming its talks with MetLife. The Springfield, Mass., life insurance and retirement services company already has a presence in Charlotte, where more than 70 agents sell the firm’s products and services.

One of its subsidiaries is Babson Capital Management, which is also based in Springfield but houses most of its senior leadership in uptown’s Duke Energy Center. Babson plans to relocate the headquarters to a new tower under construction at 300 S. Tryon St.

Deon Roberts: 704-358-5248, @DeonERoberts

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