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MetLife Plans To Divest Life Insurance Unit

MetLife says it's planning to break off part of its business that sells life insurance to U.S. households because of stiffer federal regulations regarding the amount of capital the company is expected to hold.

In a statement, MetLife said it is "currently evaluating structural alternatives for such a separation, including a public offering of shares in an independent, publicly traded company, a spin-off, or a sale."

NPR's Chris Arnold reports that MetLife is what the government calls a "systemically important financial institution" or in other words, too big to fail. He explains that under the Dodd-Frank regulatory-overhaul law, MetLife will have to hold more capital to protect the company against a possible collapse in some future crisis.

Even though the company is challenging this requirement in federal court, Tuesday's announcement signals that MetLife is also making contingency plans.

"The life-insurance unit brings in about 20 percent of the company's overall earnings. As a separate entity, the unit wouldn't have to sit on as much cash, which could allow it to be more competitive," Chris says.

MetLife said it plans to keep its divisions that sell benefits services to employers, along with pension and retirement products.

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