John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co. announced plans Tuesday to become a publicly traded company.

The company said its board of directors has approved a plan to convert from a mutual, meaning the firm is owned by its policyholders, and conduct an initial public offering within 18 months to two years.

Going public will let the company join the merger frenzy that is sweeping the financial services business, because the company will be able to use its stock to finance acquisitions.

"Demutualization will benefit our policyholders and our company's strategic position in the marketplace," said Stephen L. Brown, chairman and chief executive of John Hancock Mutual Life. "It will create new strategic opportunities, including ... possibly acquisitions."

The company said it will soon notify policyholders about its plans. The conversion must be approved by policyholders and state regulators.

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