Metropolitan Life Insurance Co.'s newly acquired third-party marketing firm has announced an aggressive goal: to grow from a medium-size seller of investment products through banks to one of the top five within two years.

To do that, Security First Group, which MetLife bought for $377 million in October, plans to sign up more banks and sell a broader range of products, said Brian J. Finneran, senior vice president with Security First.

The Los Angeles-based company plans to increase revenues from $292 million last year to $700 million this year, $1 billion in 1999, and $1.3 billion in 2000, he said. Being part of New York-based MetLife demands such rapid growth, Mr. Finneran said.

"They don't buy a company unless they plan to be a top five player," he said.

Security First's revenues place it outside the top 10 businesses in its field and well below the industry leader, Essex Corp. of New York, which posted sales of $3.1 billion last year.

Industry experts warned that Security First's goal of catching the leaders is ambitious.

"It's a tough goal, very tough," said Richard Ayotte, chief executive officer of American Brokerage Consultants, St. Petersburg, Fla. "They're considerably down the list and if they expect to triple their volume they will have to have a lot more banks doing a lot more business."

But there is opportunity to gain bank clients, particularly smaller ones. According to Mr. Ayotte, 8,000 banks still do not sell securities or annuities.

The company is beefing up its "acquisition team," doubling the staff that courts big banks to four and increasing the small bank crew to nine from five, all by midyear. And the firm plans to increase its wholesaler cadre to 16 from three by the second quarter.

Security First had been known among banks mainly for its proprietary fixed and variable annuities, but is looking to change that image.

It now offers annuities and life insurance products from MetLife subsidiaries, such as New England Financial and Texas Life. And it will add products from Jackson National Life and other providers by the end of the first quarter.

Security First will continue to sell mutual funds from an array of providers and will add funds from MetLife subsidiaries State Street Research and New England Funds.

"We're trying to put the proprietary label behind us," Mr. Finneran said.

MetLife's ownership also promises to bolster Security First's insurance ratings, which could help it land business at larger banks. Already Moody's Investors Service has upgraded its rating to Aa3 from A2.

Security First has 80 bank partners, most of them community banks. It has added five this year and plans to add another 45 to 55 banks before the year is out, Mr. Finneran said. The firm's large banks include Mercantile Bank, St. Louis, and Crestar Financial Corp., Richmond, Va.

Security First announced last week that it has promoted Richard C. Pearson to president following the retirement on Dec. 31 of Robert Mepham. Mr. Pearson previously served as general counsel and senior vice president of legal operations. Mr. Pearson, who was also named to Security First's board of directors, will continue to serve as general counsel.

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