By Robert Dixon
Industry analysts are speculating that MetLife’s recent deal to acquire South American pension provider AFP Provida could position current Americas head William Wheeler, 51, to become the life insurer’s next chief executive officer. The Americas division is the largest of MetLife’s three operating units.
The talk comes on the heels of MetLife’s announcement to buy Chilean pension fund provider AFP Provida from the Spanish bank Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA (BBVA) for about $2 billion.
MetLife said it plans to offer to buy the remaining shares in AFP Provida after BBVA agreed to sell its 64.3 percent stake in AFP to MetLife.
BBVA reported a net profit of 20 million euros, or $27 million, in the fourth quarter on Feb. 1. The Spanish bank, announced last year that it was seeking a buyer for its Latin American pension fund operations.
Provida is the largest private pension fund administrator in Chile and also manages pensions in Ecuador. Provida has about $45.3 billion under management. The acquisition comes as MetLife seeks to expand its presence in fast-growing emerging markets, current CEO Steve Kandarian said last week.
Kandarian, 61, faces a mandatory retirement age of 65. He has been CEO of MetLife since 2011, and is currently also its chairman and president.
A former banker with Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, he joined MetLife in 1997 and became chief financial officer in 2003. While in that role, he worked on several major acquisitions, including the purchase of Travelers Life & Annuity from Citigroup Inc. in 2005 for $11.7 billion.
Wheeler also ran MetLife’s banking operations, which the company is winding down. MetLife said in December it’s planning to cut variable annuity sales by about 40 percent to as little as $10 billion this year, Bloomberg News reported.
Wheeler “probably is the next in line, potentially, to be the next CEO.” said Jimmy Bhullar, an analyst at JPMorgan, told Bloomberg.
Wheeler helped MetLife steer its way through the financial crisis, and was instrumental in such deals as the sales of New York City’s Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cook Village for $5.4 billion just prior to the housing market’s crash.
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