Rating: A+ (Superior)
Affiliation Code: g (Group)
Financial Size: XV(2 Billion or greater)
Effective Date: November 17, 2011
Issuer Credit Ratings
Long Term: AA-
Date: November 17, 2011
The origins of Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (MetLife) go back to 1863, when a group of New York City businessmen raised $100,000 to found the National Union Life and Limb Insurance Company.
The new company insured Civil War sailors and soldiers against disabilities due to wartime wounds, accidents, and sickness. In 1868, after several reorganizations and five difficult years, the company decided to focus on the life insurance business. A new company was chartered to sell “ordinary” insurance to the middle class. The founders chose the name because they had been most successful in New York City, or the “Metropolitan” District.
This new venture also faced difficulties. A severe business depression that began in the early 1870s rapidly put half of the 70 life insurance companies operating in New York State out of business. Only very large, long-established ordinary life insurance companies remained strong. Policy lapses over successive years forced the company to contract until it reached its lowest point in the late 1870s.
In 1879, MetLife President Joseph F. Knapp turned his attention to England, where “industrial” or “workingmen’s” insurance programs were widely successful. American companies had not bothered to pursue industrial insurance up to that time because of the expense involved in building and sustaining an agency force to sell policies door to door and to make the weekly collection of five- or ten-cent premiums.
By importing English agents to train an American agency force, MetLife quickly transferred successful British methods for use in the United States. By 1880, the company was signing up 700 new industrial policies a day. Rapidly increasing volume quickly drove down distribution costs, and the new program proved immediately successful.
The MetLife agent became an important person in the lives of these striving families. Manuals instructed agents to call at a home at the same time each week to ensure familiarity and contact. In the process of collecting premiums, insurance agents listened to the problems, concerns, and hopes of their clients. So successful was this approach that by 1909, MetLife became the nation’s largest life insurer in terms of insurance in force, a leadership position we continue to hold today in North America.