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Four years ago, after MetLife first publicly disclosed it had lost track of thousands of people to whom it owed pensions nationwide, Secretary of State William Galvin stepped up to challenge the financial services giant.

Within two months, the secretary of state’s office, using a publicly available database, found 226 of the 459 Massachusetts residents MetLife had deemed “lost” and presumed dead.

An embarrassed MetLife quickly admitted mistakes, paid millions in retroactive claims to Massachusetts residents, and pledged to do better.

But not everything has changed. When MetLife recently released a new list of 57 “lost” pensioners in Massachusetts, the secretary of state’s office once again conducted its own search, this time locating six of them, plus the beneficiary of another who had died, all of whom will now receive payments from MetLife.


In this second batch of cases, MetLife has agreed to make almost $45,000 in retroactive payments, including interest, to those Massachusetts residents. In addition, MetLife has agreed to make monthly payments of about $75, on average, to the pensioners and one beneficiary.

MetLife owes these pensions not to their own former employees, but to the former employees of a couple dozen companies for which MetLife owns and administers retirement plans. Some of the companies have gone out of business.

“I am glad that we’ve located these people and that they will be able to get the money owed to them, but retirees on fixed incomes should not be falling through the cracks like this,” said Galvin, whose securities division enforces state laws.

“There needs to be oversight of the transfer of these pension responsibilities so this doesn’t continue to happen to workers,” he said. “Nobody is policing this.”

Among those who will now receive their benefits is a 73-year-old former employee of an aerospace company who will get $13,900 in retroactive pay, plus $126 monthly for life; a 69-year-old former worker at an electric company who will now get $4,200 in a retroactive payment, plus $82 a month for life; and a 73-year-old former paper firm employee who will now get $6,150 in a retroactive payment, plus $37 a month for life.


MetLife, one of the world’s largest providers of insurance, annuities, and employee benefit programs with tens of billions in annual revenue, said in a statement that “establishing contact with unlocatable and unresponsive participants is a challenge across the public and private retirement plan industry.”

MetLife has “developed and implemented robust procedures to locate and track” people to whom it owes pensions, “including the use of third-party address research firms, additional mailings, certified mailings, and phone calls,” the statement said.

“We appreciate the Massachusetts Securities Division helping to locate additional [pensioners] using the sources at their disposal,” MetLife said.

Galvin’s office moved aggressively in 2017 after MetLife disclosed in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it had lost track of about 13,500 pensioners nationally. His office demanded the names of Massachusetts residents on that list and then found about half of them.

In a complaint filed against the financial services company in 2018, Galvin’s office termed MetLife’s attempts to locate the pensioners “bureaucratic” and “perfunctory,” saying MetLife sent letters to the addresses it had on file when retirees turned 65 and characterized them as “presumed dead” if there were no response.

“This is not our finest hour,” said Steven A. Kandarian, MetLife’s chief executive at the time. “We had an operational failure that never should have happened and it is deeply embarrassing.”


After Galvin’s office located 226 of the “presumed dead” pensioners, MetLife quickly began making monthly payments averaging about $150 a month to them, plus about $2 million in retroactive payments, including interest.

MetLife also paid the state a $1 million fine.

Galvin said the issue is bigger than one “operational failure.” He said financial services companies like MetLife have for years been in the business of acquiring the assets of pension plans from various companies and converting them into group annuity contracts, making them responsible for monthly payments to retirees.

But financial services companies sometimes lose track of those to whom they owe pensions, especially when original employers go bankrupt or merge and their former employees change jobs and addresses through the years.

“Most people keep track of their pensions but some don’t, whether due to dementia or other reasons,” Galvin said. “In general, it’s not huge amounts of money that they are owed, but it’s their money and they deserve to get it.”

Galvin said he favors the establishment of a “national clearinghouse” into which financial services companies would be obligated to deposit data on the pensions they owe. He said state agencies that enforce securities law would then be able to check that data for anyone who is not getting their rightful pension.

“We’ve got to come up with a better way of tracing assets to people,” he said.


Got a problem? Send your consumer issue to sean.murphy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @spmurphyboston.