James Reid  in January 2018 was appointed Executive Vice President, Global Employee Benefits at MetLife, reporting to Michel Khalaf, president U.S. business and EMEA and a member of Met’s executive committee.
In an exclusive interview, James discusses his plans with Global Benefits Vision.
GBV: Should we start with the highlights of your career, focusing on employee benefits and international, that is global employee benefits including global mobility?
James Reid: I started my career in employee benefits back in 1990 at Aetna on the medical side. I had many different roles within Aetna in P&L development, running different markets and segments. I also had the opportunity to run U.S. operations for the company. I came to MetLife in 2012 and most recently led regional and small business solutions as part of MetLife’s Group Benefits business in the U.S. I was also responsible for sales distribution, as well as underwriting, and prior to that, I was the head of voluntary benefits where I was responsible for the P&L of all our group benefits products which includes our life, disability, dental, and voluntary business and the MetLaw product from Hyatt Legal Plans.
I’m excited about the opportunity to head up the Global Employee Benefits business for MetLife and I think the position capitalizes on my experience and expertise. I also look forward to working with our regional and local teams, to drive value for our customers, our markets, and our shareholders.
I want to highlight that I have a fantastic opportunity to work with great teams. Personally, I’ve been recognized for some achievements, but if I’m being candid, it’s really the achievements and the ability to work with great people which has produced impressive results in certain markets. From a leadership perspective, it’s all about the people you have an opportunity to work with and for.
GBV: Can you recap some of MetLife’s history, especially focusing on global benefits and global mobility?
JR: From a historical perspective, the acquisition of Alico back in 2010 expanded MetLife’s global footprint which made Global Employee Benefits a cornerstone of the enterprise strategy. As part of that strategy, we focused on two main factors. The first was expanding and scaling the business – specifically employee benefits outside the U.S. ; the second was working with the regions and local markets to strongly invest in and build out capabilities that supported the global strategy and the community that help our local markets both sell in and expand the employee benefits landscape. From a worldwide perspective, looking at global economies of scale, it focused on building out group life and health capabilities outside the U.S., and evaluating opportunities around pension and credit projects.
The business did takes advantage of the strong U.S. employee benefits space where we have an abundance of expertise and best practices and a really strong position among our U.S. employee benefits business.
We’ve created distinctive product capabilities and developed working, customized employee benefits solutions for the different markets and regions. We’ve had the good fortune, based on our presence in more than 40 countries, to be able to look at ways to take advantage of and access the position we have, with about 80 percent of the global group life market.
In the coming years, and specifically in the global mobility business where we sell employee benefits to mobile employees, also known as expats, we are looking to carve out our specific value proposition and niche in the markets that we serve.
Then, from a multinational perspective, with the agreement that brought about MAXIS GBN back in 1998, we think we’re in a really strong position to address the needs of the global company, the multinational, in a way that can drive volume.
GBV: Let’s move on to recap the current assets and strengths that MetLife has in global employee benefits in terms of its presence in other countries, its products, teams, and also the structure and organization of global employee benefits.
JR: MetLife Global Employee Benefits operates as a horizontal P&L business with its Center Of Expertise that serves the non-U.S. group benefits businesses. We also partner with MetLife’s regional and local offices to promote our global products. Our P&L includes MetLife Worldwide Benefits, which is our expatriate business and our 50/50 share in MAXIS GBN.
As I mentioned earlier, we are currently in more than 40 markets, and the product offer from the global perspective is group life, group health, pensions, and credit. In addition to that, MAXIS has a presence in 123 countries.
GBV: So, is MetLife global employee benefits a business unit with a stand-alone P&L or is it more like a matrix consolidation of numbers that, from a financial perspective, actually belong to different countries and business lines?
JR: The way we define it is that we operate as a horizontal business unit. The P&L that MetLife global EB is primarily responsible for is MetLife Worldwide Benefits and MAXIS, then the horizontal P&L works through all the regions and countries.
GBV: Where, exactly, does global employee benefits fit in today with the MetLife organization at large?
JR: The way we are currently structured is that global employee benefits reports into and under Michel Khalaf who is president of MetLife’s U.S. and EMEA regions.
GBV: Let’s move on to your plans. What is your long-term vision and how will you achieve that vision?
JR: The overall long-term vision for MetLife in Global Employee Benefits is that the business will continue to grow, market by market. From the strategic priority perspective, we are very much in line with our regions and local markets. We have a couple of areas highlighted where we need to make sure we provide responsible and valuable growth, which the business units that work on it are ultimately responsible for. At the same time, we are working with our regions and local markets.
There are also some additional opportunities we continue to evaluate. One area is our voluntary business. We know from our global Employee Benefit Trends Study (EBTS) that voluntary benefits are a priority for more and more employees around the world. Therefore, we continue to evaluate, investigate, and expand our efforts to see where exactly the growth opportunities are.
Data is essential in our business. Data mining and analysis is an opportunity that, when cultivated and used in the proper way, can provide differentiation and value to the businesses and employees and companies that we serve. We have strong data analysis and reporting capabilities for our clients and will continue to provide and improve analytics by working with regions and local markets to help them be positioned for success and to help grow our business in an effective way.
From a vision perspective, we continue to expand the support work done by MetLife Worldwide Benefits, our global mobility and expatriate arm. Based on the studies we’ve done, the mobile employee continues to face challenges as well as opportunities in a rapidly changing geopolitical environment. We will continue to use the opportunity to evaluate how we can help clients do their best and provide their best for their employees.
GBV: Can you describe the strategy to realize that vision?
JR: The remarkable thing about this business is that the strategy evolves daily. It is about making sure we have truly deep customer insight as well as really good market intelligence to identify ways in which we can not only compete but win new customers. In that sense, deep knowledge of local markets is essential. We have a number of strategies that have been implemented and we will continue to evaluate and evolve and work with our regional and local markets to make sure we deliver on the opportunities that drive value.
GBV: Let’s talk about SMEs and SMBs; do you have a different strategy for them?
JR: We look at what has transpired from, as well as what has been implemented in the local markets. We have assessed the product portfolio as well as the customer experience needed to influence the regional and local markets and we believe there’s an opportunity to build out or build up the ability to compete in the small-medium-enterprise (SME) space. Relying heavily on my past experience, I’m looking to align our work with the regions and local markets to create a strong value proposition for those local markets.
GBV: Many SME do have needs in terms of global mobility, but do you see any need for global optimization solutions such as pooling, captives, global programs or pan-European programs or plans?
JR: The good news is that, from a scale and efficiency standpoint at the enterprise level, we are always looking at opportunities to build out solutions and develop our digital capabilities. In this way we can deploy some of our digital strategies and digital enablement at the global level. When we look at go-to-market strategies for the various products we offer to SMEs, there are a lot of reasons for an SME to evaluate pooling. Pooling is definitely part of our business proposition today.
In summary, it’s looking at the regional or country level, the book of business we compete in today, evaluating any expansion to make sure that we’re expanding in an effective and efficient way, so we can drive predictable and productive growth to help our customers and our business.
GBV: How do you attract, train, and retain talent for your global employee benefits operations?
JR: We invest heavily in talent development. In Global Employee Benefits and across all the MetLife businesses, we work closely with our HR partners at the enterprise and local level to identify needs specific to Global Employee Benefits and other businesses. We have a number of learning and development opportunities and best practices, and in-depth employee attraction and retention programs. This includes robust online learning tools .that are available to all employees, including executives like myself.
In addition, we have an organizational health program that captures the voice of our customer – which, in this case, are our employees. Based on the results we create a number of employee-centric initiatives including employee recognition programs, mentor/mentee opportunities, personal development and networking programs, and coaching. I’m personally going to be participating in some coaching in my new global assignment so that I am as equipped as I can be to work with global communities.
GBV: What are your goals for 2018?
JR: We want to ensure that we deliver and drive the value that’s expected of us from an enterprise, regional, and global perspective. We want to have Global Employee Benefits viewed as a high-performance organization both in the markets that we serve and internally. We would also like to be seen as a place where high performing employees and leaders want to come to work and drive value across the enterprise and for the benefit of our customers.
GBV: Thank you very much, James, and we look forward to discussing market trends with you later this year.