Manulife Financial Corp. says James Benson, president of its John Hancock Life Insurance Company unit, will retire Aug. 31.[@@]

Benson, Boston, came to Manulife when Manulife acquired Hancock.

Manulife also says John DesPrez III, 48, president of John Hancock Financial Services Inc., will assume responsibility for all Manulife U.S. operations.

Robert Cook, now head of U.S. life insurance, will assume responsibility for all U.S. protection operations and will report to DesPrez.

Dominic D’Alessandro, president of Manulife, Toronto, has issued a sttement emphasizing that Hancock turned in strong second-quarter results and that the integration of Hancock into Manulife has been going smoothly.

“Jim leaves his organization well positioned for continued sales and earnings growth,” D’Alessandro says.

Benson, who began working for Hancock 2 years ago, says in a statement of his own that he decided after about 40 years in the financial services industry to leave active company management.

“I believe [Hancockthe company has a very bright future,” Benson says. “It seems an opportune time to pass the baton.

Before Benson began working for Hancock in 2002, he was president of the individual business operations at MetLife Inc., New York.

Benson also was chairman of MetLife’s New England Financial unit.

Benson also has been president of the old Equitable Companies Inc., New York, and chief executive of its Equitable Life Assurance Society unit.