The retail banking activity that will stem from MetLife Inc.’s purchase of a small New Jersey bank include pitching banking products by Internet to employees of MetLife’s 70,000 corporate clients, an executive with the company said.

Stewart G. Nagler, vice chairman and chief financial officer of MetLife, said the company wants to leverage the 33 million employees available to it as a benefits provider to 70,000 companies. Owning a bank “is a great opportunity to provide banking products in the workplace,” he said last week at a conference sponsored by Putnam Lovell Securities Inc.

This cross-marketing will be tested with MetLife’s own employees before being rolled out to the corporate client base this summer, a spokeswoman said.

In August 2000, when MetLife announced its deal to buy $84 million-asset Grand Bank, of Kingston, N.J., it said its plan was to use the acquisition as a springboard to offer cradle-to-grave financial services to its 11 million policyholders across the nation. By offering checking accounts and other banking services, MetLife hopes it can get insurance beneficiaries to keep their money with MetLife and buy other investment products.

Grand Bank, which was established in February 1999, has only one walk-in branch. Mr. Nagler said the 12-employee outfit needs no more branches because “we can access people, and we can provide very competitive rates” — online and through MetLife’s agents.

MetLife closed the Grand Bank deal Feb. 28. The price was not disclosed.

Since going public a year ago, MetLife has become leaner, and now “it really is a new company,” Mr. Nagler said. He acknowledged that it has had troubles in its auto and home business, which posted a $22 million after-tax loss for the first quarter, but he said other lines are experiencing solid growth in revenues and earnings.

MetLife wants to target its employee benefits products to smaller companies. Mr. Nagler said that, while MetLife’s customer base includes 87 of the Fortune 100, it has never been that strong among middle-market and smaller companies.

The company has also set a goal of 11.5% return on equity for 2002. Last year its return on equity was 10.5%, against 9.5% in 1999.

“That is good progress, but we know we need to move it higher,” Mr. Nagler said.

Another objective is 15% growth a year in earnings per share, he said. In its first year as a public company, MetLife’s per-share earnings rose 18%.

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