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MetLife gets risk designation from US panel, weighs its options

MetLife Inc., the biggest U.S. life insurer by assets, was labeled a systemically important financial institution by a council of regulators and said it will consider whether to sue the government over the decision.

The ruling subjects MetLife to stricter Federal Reserve oversight that could include tougher capital, leverage and liquidity requirements. The Financial Stability Oversight Council voted to designate New York-based MetLife a SIFI, the insurer said Thursday in a statement. The company can appeal in U.S. district court within 30 days.

Last year, MetLife consolidated its U.S. retail operation to Charlotte, where it opened a hub in Ballantyne. A spokesman said Thursday the hub is close to its goal of employing 1,386 by 2015.

“We continue to believe that MetLife is not systemically important,” the insurer said in a statement. “The company will carefully review the designation rationale as it considers its next steps.”

The council proposed the designation in September by a 9-0 vote, with former Kentucky insurance regulator Roy Woodall voting “present.” Chief Executive Officer Steven Kandarian had said that the company “strongly disagrees” and wasn’t ruling out “any of the available remedies” to contest the designation. MetLife challenged the decision at a Nov. 3 hearing.

The company has insisted that it wouldn’t pose a risk to the broader financial system even if it were to fail, and Kandarian has called the insurance industry a source of stability. MetLife, based in New York, didn’t take a bailout during the 2008 financial crisis.

U.S. lawmakers voted last week to give the Fed more flexibility to set rules after insurers said they shouldn’t be subject to standards set for banks. Kandarian, in a Dec. 10 statement, praised Congress for passing the legislation, which he said would give the central bank the “opportunity to write rules that will preserve competition.”

The council has designated three other nonbank financial companies systemically important: insurers American International Group Inc. and Prudential Financial Inc., and General Electric Co.’s finance arm. A two-thirds vote is required.

AIG, the insurer that required a $182.3 billion bailout in the financial crisis, and GE Capital opted against challenging the risk tag. Prudential, the second-largest U.S. life insurer, lost its challenge to the council’s ruling last year. The Newark, New Jersey-based company opted against appealing the ruling in federal court.

Created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank law, the council is charged with monitoring potential threats to the financial system.

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