NU Online News Service, April 13, 2004, 6:14 p.m. EDT – Massachusetts insurance regulators have approved efforts by Manulife Financial Corp., Toronto, to acquire the life insurance units of John Hancock Financial Services Inc., Boston.[@@]

Manulife applied for permission from the Massachusetts Division of Insurance to acquire John Hancock’s life units in November 2003.

Manulife was the only party that asked to participate in the division’s public hearing on the Manulife application, regulators report in a discussion of their decision.

Manulife is a strong company, and John Hancock policyholders who received John Hancock shares when John Hancock demutualized voted 88% of those shares in favor of the deal, the regulators note.

The regulators also cite Manulife’s assurances that it wants to maintain John Hancock’s current level of community involvement.

The regulators acknowledge that some shareholders are participating in suits that accuse John Hancock of awarding excessive executive compensation and improper stock grants.

But, at this time, the claims are unproven allegations, and “we find such allegations insufficient to render adverse conclusions as to the competence, experience or integrity” of the directors who would control the Boston-based insurers after the merger, the regulators write.

The regulators’ own independent advisors found no evidence of problems that would present an obstacle to approval of the transaction, the regulators conclude.