Analysts are split about how much Prudential Insurance Company of America would increase its banking-related activities — or whether it will try to buy a bank — after it goes public in the fourth quarter.

Prudential has said that it has no interest in buying a bank — something its chairman, Art Ryan, has reiterated several times to his troops. But the Newark, N.J., company has said it plans to increase distribution in coming months through all its alternative channels, which include banks.

Patrick Finnegan, a senior vice president at the ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service in New York, said he doubts the insurer will spend much post-IPO time improving its bank channel activities.

“Pru wants to build up its personal financial planning and agent distribution,” Mr. Finnegan said. “It wants to be known as a company that sells advice-based packages and products. A financial planner or agent can provide you with asset allocation advice, and I don’t believe banks are as good at that.”

But some analysts say a heavier involvement by Pru in banking remains a possibility.

Melissa Gannon, a vice president at Weiss Ratings Inc. of Palm Beach, Fla., said she could see Pru “going after a consumer bank — a bank that has personal banking and mortgages as its core.” Also, given the insurer’s size, “it could also go after a commercial bank,” she said. “It’s big enough to go after multistate banks in both.”

Michael A. Cohen, a vice president in the life-health division of A.M. Best Co. of Oldwick, N.J., said “managing itself as a public company” will be Prudential’s most immediate issue. “I don’t think going public will change the banking part of its strategy.”

Prudential does have a thrift charter, which it uses to operate Prudential Bank and Trust Co., a trust institution in Atlanta. “We do not offer consumer loans or service accounts,” said Bob DeFillippo, a Prudential spokesman.

Several analysts said that Prudential’s moves could mirror some of those that MetLife Inc., its chief rival in the New York metropolitan area, has made since it went public in February 2000.

In February 2001 MetLife closed a deal for $84 million-asset Grand Bank of Kingston, N.J. The bank, since renamed MetLife Bank, was acquired to provide asset management and retail banking services that would tie in with the insurer’s life insurance, annuities, and investment products.

MetLife said it plans to start offering banking products this year, like savings and checking accounts, money market accounts, CDs, and IRAs, as a complement to its insurance and financial products.

“We anticipate most customers will conduct the majority of their banking remotely, via the Internet, telephone, and ATMs, with MetLife’s existing distribution channels available as a resource to our customers,” a MetLife spokeswoman said.

However, Tom Upton, a director in Standard & Poor’s financial services group, said it’s too early to compare MetLife’s banking activities with what Prudential might do.

“They have a bank charter and they have the flexibility, but what they’ll do is unclear,” Mr. Upton said. “But my guess is, the banking arena isn’t their top priority. They have to continue to build up their agent sales first.”

As for buying a large bank, as Travelers bought Citicorp (now Citigroup Inc.), Mr. Upton “doubts that would happen.”

Still, Mr. DeFillippo did not rule out the possibility of expanded banking activity for Prudential. “Three years from now, who knows? But it is not in our plans,” he said.

Analysts are united in saying that Prudential (which is not related to Prudential PLC, the U.K. insurer that recently made an unsuccessful bid for American General) will benefit from going public, though A.M. Best’s Mr. Cohen warned that the IPO would put the insurer under the same kind of scrutiny other companies now get.

Some of this heat already is being felt: Prudential has said that it plans to cut the work force by 550 at its Prudential Securities subsidiary in response to Wall Street’s downturn this year. The company cut another 400 jobs last fall when it quit the institutional bond business, and late last year 160 investment bankers lost their jobs.

Prudential had $371 billion of assets under management at the end of last year. An IPO date has not been selected.


From Our Archive

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.