"The public is still three to five years away from seeing us the way we see ourselves," says Rika Levin, chief marketing officer of MetLife Bank, a unit of New York-based MetLife Inc.
"We think of ourselves as a financial services company, but consumers still split financial services into banking, insurance, or brokers. Our name still connects us to insurance, and it's our challenge to get customers to think of us as a financial services company," Ms. Levin said in an interview.
Discussing MetLife's strategy for extending its brand from its insurance base into broader financial services, she said that it would market primarily to its sizable customer base and cross-sell directly, both through its agents and the Internet.
With more than 16 years of experience at major banks, including Chase Manhattan, Chemical, and Citi, Ms. Levin's background in bank operations and sales and marketing serves her well for such an effort.
Ms. Levin, who came to MetLife Bank seven months ago, said that the company's transition from being perceived purely as an insurer to a company that offers banking products will be slow.
Over the next two years she plans to target MetLife's nine million individual insurance customer households for the largely Internet-based MetLife Bank, whose services include checking and savings accounts; certificates of deposit; business banking; trust services; and mortgage, home equity, and commercial loans.
"We don't have to try and get people in off the streets," Ms. Levin said. "We have to begin by getting people who already trust us to use us. That will keep us busy."
She also intends to target the 33 million group insurance customers, to whom MetLife provides employee benefits, for potential Internet sales of bank products.
"We do business with 87 of the Fortune 100 companies, and that's a large group of people to ask if they're interested in buying our CDs or savings accounts through their employers," Ms. Levin said. "Instead of driving 20 minutes to a bank they can do all their banking from their desk, using the Internet. They'll have an ATM card. There is a call center; there's everything they'd need."
Some agents will also start helping customers open accounts through a pilot program to be started this year.
Ms. Levin intends to get the word out to agents via direct mail and the Internet but has no plan to launch an internal or external ad campaign. The Internet is key to MetLife Bank, she added, because she does not plan to open branches.
But according to Todd Eyler, a senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Boston, Internet banking has not caught on nationwide. "At this point it isn't compelling," he said. "Value has to be added ; otherwise it just gives marginal convenience."
Mr. Eyler said that it is going to take a long time to get the public to use an insurer as a bank.
"MetLife has a good reputation, but if you look at the specific times that people deal with insurers, it's never good," he said. "It's very difficult to build relationships and get people to trust you with their money when the only interactions they have with you is when they're paying an insurance premium or filing a claim."
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