UPDATE 1-Regulator approves GE deal for MetLife deposit business

Wed Dec 12, 2012 5:30pm EST

* Deal signed in late 2011

* Amended in September for faster approval

* MetLife aims to return cash to investors

Dec 12 (Reuters) - The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has approved MetLife's sale of its deposit-taking business to a unit of General Electric Co's GE Capital, MetLife Inc said on Wednesday.

The long-delayed approval brings MetLife, the largest life insurer in the United States, one step closer to shedding its banking business and its bank holding charter.

GE Capital and MetLife first struck a deal in late 2011, but regulatory reviews have held it up since. In September they restructured the sale so that the OCC would be the regulator to approve the deal, and not the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Analysts said at the time that the FDIC was slowing the deal down with inquires to GE and that switching to the OCC might mean a faster approval.

After the sale closes, MetLife said it will move to deregister as a bank holding company. Because it holds that charter, it has been subject to oversight by the Federal Reserve.

The Fed blocked MetLife's plans to buy back shares and raise its dividends in March 2012 after the company failed a stress test, one designed for banks and not insurers.

Since then, MetLife has been working to get the bank sale closed and rid itself of the charter so it could return cash to shareholders.

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