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MetLife CEO names cost-cutter Steigerwalt as interim U.S. head

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(Bloomberg) — MetLife Inc. promoted Eric Steigerwalt to interim head of the U.S. business, the insurer’s largest division, after the executive worked on reducing costs by consolidating offices and cutting jobs.

Steigerwalt, who had led U.S. retail, adds responsibility for other units in the nation, including group-voluntary coverage, workplace benefits, corporate benefit funding and direct sales, Chief Executive Officer Steve Kandarian said Thursday on a conference call held by the New York-based company. The life insurer is still seeking a replacement for William Wheeler, who was considered a candidate to become CEO until he stepped down this year as head of the Americas, a role that includes oversight of the U.S. and Latin American nations.

“MetLife is taking a deliberate approach to find the right leadership for the Americas,” Kandarian said, adding that Oscar Schmidt will remain head of Latin America.

MetLife has pursued expansion in Latin America through acquisitions in countries such as Chile, while working to boost margins in the U.S. by reducing costs. Steigerwalt in 2013 highlighted how the company cut its adviser force by a third, eliminating 2,500 jobs in 15 months while scaling back variable annuity sales.

Cutting Advisers

“We’re not financing advisers who, frankly, were never going to make it in this business,” he said at the time.

Steigerwalt was named treasurer in 2007 after previously serving as vice president of investor relations and working on the company’s initial public offering in 2000. After Wheeler shifted from chief financial officer to the Americas post, Steigerwalt filled in as interim CFO for parts of 2011 and 2012 and then became head of U.S. retail.

He helped consolidate staff in Charlotte, North Carolina, from locations in states such as Massachusetts, New Jersey and California as part of a $600 million cost-cutting plan. And in a separate event in 2013, Steigerwalt said MetLife was pushing agents to diversify sales by selling more car and residential coverage.

“Out of our 58 agencies, we had two agencies last year that were doing meaningful amounts of auto and home business,” he said at the time. “It’s ridiculous.”

MetLife made about three-quarters of its revenue from the Americas in 2014. The insurer’s two other regional divisions are the Europe, Middle East and Africa segment, headed by Michel Khalaf; and Asia, led by Christopher Townsend.

Wheeler’s Departure

The insurer dropped 1.6 percent on April 14, when MetLife said Wheeler was leaving to “pursue other interests.” Ryan Krueger of Keefe Bruyette & Woods was among analysts who said the departure complicated succession strategy for Kandarian.

Athene Holding Ltd., the insurer tied to Apollo Global Management LLC, named Wheeler president in September as the annuity-seller prepares to go public.

–With assistance from Sonali Basak in New York.


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