John Hancock has taken one more step in its bid to go public.

The John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co.'s board of directors has adopted a plan to distribute the company's value to policyholders in the form of stock, cash or policy credits.

John Hancock has even settled on a New York Stock Exchange ticker symbol: JHF, short for what will become the company's new name, John Hancock Financial Services.

The company announced last year that it was planning to go public, joining rivals Prudential Insurance Co. and Metropolitan Life Insurance as they move ahead in the process known as "demutualization."

As a mutual insurance company, John Hancock is currently owned by its policyholders.

Demutualization allows John Hancock to more effectively compete in the rapidly consolidating financial services world, where the lines that once divided industries such as insurance, banking and mutual funds have begun to blur, said Stephen L. Brown, the company's chairman and chief executive.

"We think there's still a lot more consolidation to come in the insurance business," Brown said. By going public, the company also will have greater access to capital to make acquisitions and expand operations like mutual funds and asset management, he said.

John Hancock expects the demutualization plan to affect about 3 million policyholders.

The plan must still be approved by two-thirds of policyholders at a Nov. 30 vote, and it also needs the support of state regulators.

John Hancock hopes to make an initial public offering in the first quarter of 2000. The company and its subsidiaries had a total of $124.4 billion under management at the end of last year.

Most policyholders will have the option of receiving cash or stock. Policyholders who live outside the United States, are in bankruptcy or who can't be located will be able to receive only cash or enhancements in the values of their policies.

Policyholders and customers of John Hancock subsidiaries, such as John Hancock Variable Life Insurance Co. and John Hancock Funds, are not eligible to participate in the demutualization, the company said.