A new MetLife Inc. division in California will not only boost the New York company's third-party distribution of investment products but will also develop them according to customer demand, executives say.

The MetLife Investors Group, which opened for business Monday in Newport Beach, offers mutual funds, variable life insurance, annuities, and retirement plans to registered investment advisers, financial planning firms, broker-dealers, and banks.

Jamie Shepherdson, co-chief executive officer of the unit along with Greg Brakovich, said it will also work with individual advisers to create the products and services their customers want.

Until now MetLife distributed its products to banks and broker-dealers through its Security First unit. Its intermediary distribution increased when it bought New England Life Insurance Co. and General American Mutual Holding Co., but after the company went public last April it needed still more distribution.

MetLife spokesman Peter Harrington said operations such as Security First and all supplemental distribution channels will be folded into MetLife Investors.

Ken Kehrer, president of Kenneth Kehrer Associates in Princeton, N.J., said outside sales channels have become the backbone of financial companies' efforts to build distribution. To compete, MetLife has to transform itself, he said.

"Expanding distribution means either hiring and training more agents, which is very expensive, or increasing distribution through existing channels," Mr. Kehrer said. "Getting into existing channels is just logical."

Geoff Bobroff of Bobroff Consulting Inc. in Providence, R.I., said third-party sales are a "bastion" at all fund companies. Sales through intermediaries are here to stay, since roughly two-thirds of investors want some sort of help in financial planning, Mr. Bobroff said.

Before joining MetLife in April, Mr. Shepherdson and Mr. Brakovich were co-CEOs of Equitable Distributors Inc., an Axa Financial Inc. division that distributes annuities and insurance products through third parties.

Mr. Kehrer said the experience Mr. Shepherdson and Mr. Brakovich bring to MetLife Investors will give the company an advantage over other insurers reaching for the intermediary market.

"They are in a better position than they were at Equitable, because at MetLife they have the capability to develop their own products," Mr. Kehrer said. "Now they can create and market the right products for intermediaries, and that is a rare position to be in."

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