MetLife Inc., the largest U.S. life insurer, was moved to the last stage of a regulatory review that may impose extra Federal Reserve oversight.
The Financial Stability Oversight Council, a group of regulators led by Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew, voted to move New York-based MetLife into a third round of evaluation that may label the company systemically important, the insurer said yesterday in a statement. The designation indicates a firm could endanger the financial system if it were to fail.
“Not only does exposure to MetLife not threaten the financial system, but I cannot think of a single firm that would be threatened by its exposure to MetLife,” MetLife Chief Executive Officer Steven Kandarian said in the statement. “The life-insurance industry is a source of financial stability.”
Kandarian, 61, has said the insurer doesn’t have enough “interconnectedness” with other companies to damage the broader economy. The Fed can impose tighter capital rules on companies named systemically important.
American International Group Inc. and General Electric Co.’s finance unit were named systemically important this month, after entering the final stage of the designation process last year. Prudential Financial Inc., the second-largest U.S. life insurer, received the risk label and is appealing the decision to the council.
MetLife wasn’t included in the initial round of designations because it was already overseen by the Fed, stemming from its ownership of a bank. The company sold deposits to end the central bank’s oversight this year.
MetLife had $842 billion in assets as of March 31, while Prudential held $724 billion. The companies invest in bonds and stocks to back future payouts to holders of life-insurance policies and savings products like annuities.
Kandarian said he supports “prudent regulation” of the industry. Designating only some insurers as non-bank Systemically Important Financial Institutions -- or SIFIs -- can create an “unlevel playing field,” he said.
“If only a handful of large life insurers are named SIFIs and subjected to capital rules designed for banks, our ability to issue guarantees would be constrained,” Kandarian said. “We would have to raise the price of the products we offer, reduce the amount of risk we take on, or stop offering certain products altogether.”
The FSOC has 10 voting members, including Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke and the chairmen of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
MetLife and Prudential have been pressuring the Fed to avoid bank-like capital rules for insurers that are declared systemically important and subjected to Fed supervision.