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MetLife Bank To Launch This Fall

Insurer will leverage brand name to target existing insurance customers.

After many Internet start-ups have discovered that a brand name can't be bought, MetLife Bank will lean heavily on its own brand, as it plans to extend the company's product base into banking later this year.

"Two things have facilitated the entry into banking: Gramm-Leach-Bliley and MetLife's demutualization," says Rika Levin, chief marketing officer for MetLife Bank, a subsidiary of MetLife ($302.5 billion in assets under management). "However, we are going to have to help educate the consumer that MetLife is more than just an insurance company." MetLife initially will target existing customers with banking products, both through agents and the Internet.

As the entire industry consolidates, Levin suggests, consumers will become accustomed to financial services companies that offer products and services in more than one of the financial verticals. "There is a general convergence around all financial institutions," she adds. "The consumer is going to get educated wherever they do business. The great thing about MetLife is the brand. People have a tremendous amount of trust in us."

In fact, says Jim Scurlock, senior manager, financial services Ernst & Young (New York), brand will help MetLife succeed. "MetLife has its brand and image," he says. "There was a statement that brand and image don't mean anything on the Net. But...people have to know that the company is reliable."

Leveraging Others' Pain

Along with its good reputation, Levin says MetLife will be able to avoid the mistakes made by some struggling online banks. "We are coming into the market a little later and we will leverage what we have seen from other industries," Levin explains. "Online banks really spent too much time trying to move people onto the Net. The Internet is a great place to give and share information and do transactions. But, even on the Net, the consumer wants to talk to a live person at times."

And, as many have found out, not everyone wants to use the Internet exclusively. "As the next generation of people matures, there will be a huge shift to the Net, but for now, it is simply another channel," Levin says.

Cap Gemini's Scurlock expects it will take the Internet at least 10 years to penetrate the banking market. "The ATM took 25 years to reach a 60 to 70 percent market penetration," he says. "How long will it take the Internet to reach that number? It will only take about 12 years, because people are more technology savvy."

In the meantime, Scurlock says, MetLife Bank will succeed not only because of its good reputation, but because the Internet will not be its only channel of access for customers. "This is simply another channel for banking and it is not exclusive, so customers can always contact the call center, if need be," Scurlock says.

MetLife Bank plans to offer 24/7 customer service, both over the Internet and through a call center, Levin says. Currently, MetLife Bank is working with Fiserv (Brookfield, WI) and is evaluating other technology partners for the development of its banking systems.

Greg MacSweeney is editorial director of InformationWeek Financial Services, whose brands include Wall Street & Technology, Bank Systems & Technology, Advanced Trading, and Insurance & Technology. View Full Bio

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