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MetLife, bracing for SIFI-hood, considering options

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MetLife’s CEO Steve Kandarian said on an earnings conference call today that the company is possibly considering action to contest a potential designation by federal authorities to name it as a systemically important financial institution (SIFI). 

Kandarian was speaking to investors and analysts after third quarter results were released Oct. 30, a transcript of which was offered by

Specifically, Kandarian said, that although it is too early for MetLife to make that decision, “We were not ruling out any of the available remedies under Dodd-Frank to contest a SIFI designation.” The first — if lobbying efforts themselves prove unsuccessful — would be an appeal to the organization that handed down the designation, the second would be to fight it in federal court. MetLife has been making its case in Washington on why it is not systemically important and why banking-related rules would harm its business for over a year.

Although the Federal Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) met today, it did not appear to have voted on closing the book on a Stage 3 or final review of MetLife in its analysis of its SIFI status. The FSOC received an update on analyses related to interest rate risk and also, among other things, held an initial discussion on asset management, following the receipt of a study on the industry from the Office of Financial Research, according to an FSOC read-out of the meeting provided by the U.S. Treasury Department. Asset managers — perhaps ones that now own insurers — are next in line to get nonbank SIFI designations, some believe. 

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MetLife remains under Stage 3 review by the FSOC for a potential designation as a non-bank systemically important financial institution, or SIFI. 

Kandarian, who has made no bones about the company’s displeasure at being a SIFI, said the New York-based company continues to make the case to policymakers that applying bank-centric rules to the business of insurance will constrain insurers ability to issue guarantees and increase the cost of financial protection for consumers. MetLife, before it sold its bank division, was subject to Federal Reserve oversight, and bristled under it.

Kandarian and many others assume MetLife will indeed be designated a SIFI, based on past analysis of AIG and Prudential’s life insurance operations, which posit that the huge variable annuity operations and life insurance holdings are subject to runs and then contagion based on the size and interconnectedness of the insurers. The Financial Stability Board of the G-20 announced MetLife, AIG and Prudential as global SIFIs or systemically important insurers (G-SIIs) this past July, subject to oversight and enhanced capital rules under development by the International Association of Insurance Supervisors (IAIS)

Kandarian raised MetLife’s potential course of action in the context of Prudential’s decision last month not to challenge its SIFI designation in federal district court. Prudential had of course appealed and lost the decision to the FSOC after the Council voted 7-2 to designate Prudential a nonbank SIFI in early June.