Australia's second largest life office is looking for a suitable U.S. insurance company it can purchase so that it can expand its operations into the United States.

The National Mutual Life Association of Australasia Ltd. has given the acquisition of a U.S. life office top priority in a program it has adopted to broaden its international operations.National Mutual declined to reveal a timetable for the takeover of merger. It also declined to reveal how much money it has allocated for the venture.

The type size and location of a U.S. company it is seeking also has not been revealed. But the NML has been closely studying the life insurance scene in the United States for some time.

National Mutual Life Managing Director Eric Mayer said, for the immediate future, we see ourselves as increasingly being in financial services across a wide spectrum, and we see ourselves as increasingly being an international company.

But he emphasized that National Mutual Life would remain Australian based, with its headquarters maintained in Melbourne.

We definitely would like to acquire an appropriate life office in the United States, and that would be one of our earlier moves, said Mr. Mayer.

He said National Mutual Life saw plenty of opportunities in the U.S. market and was not scared by the prospect of moving into a much larger foreign market.

This may sound a conceited and insular comment, and it is not meant to be, but I think the Australian life insurance industry is probably, as a whole, ahead of the U.S. insurance industry, Mr. Mayer said.

Mr. Mayer said he based this belief not on the proposition that the Australian industry has better insurance brains, but because the U.S. life industry has been over-regulated.

We can add value to the U.S. industry from our Australian experience.

In 1986 National Mutual Life acquired the life insurance and unit trust business of the British merchant bank, Schroders.

We hope down the track to be a considerable player in the U.K. market, as we also hope to be a significant player in the United States, Mr. Mayer said.

National Mutual Life has long been at the forefront of financial diversification within the Australian life industry.

The company has a 50 percent stake in a bank formed in 1986 with the Royal Bank of Canada. It is the National Mutual Royal Bank, with a network of 170 branches across Australia.

For the fiscal year to the end of last September, National Mutual Life reported rapid growth for the third consecutive year.

Group new premium sales were up 129 percent to the equivalent of US$1,450 million. Cash income was up 86 percent, and investments were at a record level.