Supporting Country and Community
Over the years, MetLife has made a difference by supporting urban renewal projects and community financing. The company's social commitment and its commitment to the security of its policyholders have proven to be good business.
Concern for the financial security of its policyholders led the company to shy away from investing in the stock market. This policy resulted in MetLife surviving the crash of 1929 relatively unscathed while countless other financial institutions collapsed with devastating effects on the American people. The financial strength of the company allowed MetLife to pay out cash surrenders to its policyholders, and the Company even honored requests from policy holders whose premiums had lapsed. For many, these payments made the difference between financial failure and survival.
Beginning in the 1930s, the company broadened its tradition of public service from promoting individual health to fostering national social and economic goals. In 1930, MetLife was the undisputed leader of the insurance industry, insuring every fifth man, woman, and child in the United States and Canada. Traditionally, the company had invested a substantial portion of its assets in urban and farm mortgages and in loans to individuals. But the collapse of real estate values during the Great Depression and the decline of interest rates made these customary investment options less attractive.
In response to changing conditions, the company reduced the percentage of individual mortgages in its portfolio in favor of public utility bonds, investments in government securities, and loans for commercial real estate. In 1931 MetLife provided the outside capital to build Rockefeller Center. It also lent money to construct the Empire State Building in 1929, and virtually saved this project from bankruptcy. The company's housing program begun in the 1920s and completed after World War II -- at the time the most extensive housing program undertaken by either public or private enterprise- was in part driven by the need for investment vehicles that would bring greater returns to policyholders. During World War II, the company placed more than 51 percent of its total assets in war bonds, and was the largest single private contributor to the Allied cause.
As the "world's wealthiest private company," MetLife entered the postwar period in a strong and secure position. This era in the company's history changed MetLife in a number of fundamental ways. To bring its products and services closer to customers, it expanded its suburban presence, decentralized operations, and refocused its career agency system to serve all segments of the market. MetLife also developed new group products and marketed them to employers and institutions. By the end of 1979, MetLife concentrated on four businesses: group insurance, personal insurance, pensions, and investments.
The year 2001 was a true test of the qualities that define MetLife. The company’s core values, brought to life in what MetLife does every day, were never more evident than in MetLife’s response to the terrorist attacks of September 11. MetLife not only paid claims extraordinarily quickly, but also invested $1 billion in a broad array of publicly-traded common stocks to help rebuild confidence in shaken financial markets.