In the latest example of a high-level banker defecting to the insurance industry, former Chase Manhattan Corp. executive Edward D. Miller will take the reins at the Equitable Cos.

Mr. Miller will become chief executive of the insurance holding company and its principal operating subsidiary, Equitable Life Assurance Society of the U.S.

He succeeds Joseph J. Melone, who will become chairman of the Equitable Cos.' executive committee and who will remain in his current role as chairman of Equitable Life.

The formal appointments are to be made at next week's annual board meeting, the company said.

Mr. Miller, 56, retired in April from his post as senior vice chairman at Chase after nearly 35 years as a banker, saying he wanted to pursue a second career.

"I really wanted to run my own show," he said in a telephone interview yesterday.

"I was looking for something that was interesting and exciting."

He joins a growing list of ex-bankers who have crossed over to the insurance industry in recent years.

Arthur Ryan, a former Chase president, is now chairman of Prudential Life Insurance Co. Robert Lipp, a former head of consumer banking at Chemical, is now chairman of Travelers Property and Casualty Co. Richard Huber, a former vice chairman at Continental Bank Corp., is now chairman of Aetna.

"There are many similarities" between the two industries, said Mr. Miller.

Insurance companies have been courting top bankers for their skills at profitably managing complex businesses and for their experience in using new technologies, consultants said.

"It reflects an appreciation that progressive banks are further along in their understanding of the economics of the business and that they have grappled longer with new avenues for revenue growth," said James McCormick, president of First Manhattan Consulting Group.

And as the lines between the insurance and banking industries blur, having people in senior management who understand banking could be "extra valuable," Mr. McCormick said.

Mr. Miller said he plans to focus on building Equitable's brand recognition and will concentrate particularly on its life insurance business, which he described as an area of "significant growth."

Equitable, which is 60% owned by AXA Group in Paris, France, itself owns majority stakes in Alliance Capital Management and Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette.

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