MetLife (NYSE: MET) is one of the largest insurance and financial services companies in the U.S; the company collected $26.5 billion in premiums for 2009. It has a very diverse range of products and services, including many different kinds of insurance, savings plans, and retirement plans.
MetLife's main source of revenue comes from insurance premiums. The company takes the money paid by those who buy insurance policies and invests it in a number of different ways. If the return on investment (the "spread") plus the premiums is greater than the payout to policy holders, the company profits. This business model while common in the insurance industry is especially vulnerable to natural disasters and swings in the equity markets. The former in form of hurricanes, earthquakes and forest fires, can result in hundreds of millions to billions of dollars in losses in a single year. The company paid out $333 million in homeowners insurance in 2006 related to Hurricane Katrina. A poorly preforming market on the other hand can result in a loss of investment income which is often a crucial component of profitability.
Over the past several years, MetLife has focused on organic growth and cost reduction. While it has experienced some success in this area its expenses still continue to be high compared to those of the insurance industry.
The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, MetLife, began in 1863 to insure "life and limb" with only $100,000. It has since expanded to a multi-billion dollar diverse financial institution. MetLife provides insurance and financial services for individuals and institutions throughout the US, and is currently pursuing international opportunities. Services include life, auto and home insurance, annuities, and retirement and savings planning.
In 2009, MET earned a total of $41 billion in total revenues. This was a decline from its 2008 total revenues of $dsdsds51 billion. This had a negative impact on MET's net income. Between 2008 and 2009, MET's net income went from a net profit of $3.3 billion in 2008 to a net loss of $2.3 billion in 2009.
Metlife breaks its operations into four segments.
Insurance sold to businesses as group plans makes up about half of MetLife's revenue. This category includes group life insurance, retirement plans, and savings services sold to third parties, rather than directly to the customer. Insurance in this category generates less revenue per unit than individual insurance, but each plan has multiple units leading to greater overall revenue. This portion of MetLife's business has remained relatively stable over the past few years.
This is MetLife's retail department. The company sells individual life insurance plans and annuities directly to the end consumer. Although second in terms of revenue generated, this business is number one in terms of net income. It is MetLife's most profitable business. For more discussion of what might effect sales of individual policies, see the Trends and Forces section.
Although this is a smaller portion of MetLife's business, auto and home insurance are still significant to the company's profits. Plans are bought by the individual consumer, like individual insurance, but for homes and cars. A booming economy with higher sales of new cars and homes, as well as state laws mandating auto or home insurance increase revenues in this category.
MetLife has a large operation in Mexico and several businesses in Korea and Japan selling financial services. MetLife also recently acquired Travelers Life & Annuity (mid-2005) which helped to open up channels for sales in Europe. As part of its plan for further international expansion the company is targeting developing economies such as China. Typically it will "seed" these countries by offering a few services on a small scale. Based on the outcome MetLife will than make a decision to expand its service offering or shut down its operations in that country.
Due to shifting demand and inherent risk in insuring and investment, diversification is essential to provide a "buffer" for market shocks. If each business area accounts for only a small portion of a company's revenue, the effects of fluctuations will be minimized. MetLife has a very diversified mix of businesses that are[spread-based, protection-based, and fee-based. This means that it is collecting revenues through different types of plans. MetLife's subsidiaries focus on institutional businesses, retail customers, as well as global interests.
In addition to diversification of products, economies of scale are essential to success in the insurance industry by providing a large number of services companies like MetLife can spread the fixed costs of running a business, such as technology, advertising, compliance, over multiple streams of revenue.MetLife is similar in theory to a conglomerate of many small businesses which have merged in order to share an office. Each additional customer or business is less of a proportional risk, and thus expansion of MetLife's business incurs little incremental cost.
Insurance and financial companies can easily be perceived as cold and uncompassionate; Over the years, movies and news stories, about insurance companies' attempts to defraud their customers have only strengthened this portrayal. MetLife has tried to combat this image with an innovative marketing campaign involving Snoopy and the MetLife Blimp. MetLife uses characters from the Peanuts cartoon strip in many of its advertisements, creating brand recognition that is associated with warmth. In addition, the company leases two blimps, Snoopy One and Two, which fly around the country to different events throughout the year. This combination of tactics creates name recognition and urges consumers to consider managing uncertainties today rather than waiting until problems arise. Brand recognition is very important, as there can often be little else to distinguish financial service companies, and so MetLife's friendly advertising campaign is definitely an innovative way to build recognition and then loyalty.
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In the insurance industry there are three main determinants of profitability: premiums collected, investment performance, and losses incurred. Increasing the amount of premiums collected equals higher revenue. This revenue can then be invested, hopefully at a profit. Each year the company has to pay claims against the premiums that it has collected. The fewer payouts a firm has in a given year, the more money remains for investment. Ironically, in some years the payouts are greater than premiums received, and the firm has to rely on its investments for profitability.