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Chinese Bank ICBC Gains Access to Life Insurance Sector

Posted on Oct 29, 2010 by Sergio Ulloa ()

Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC) has agreed to buy a major stake in the French-Chinese joint venture AXA-Minmetals Assurance Company. The move by the Chinese Bank ICBC will make them the majority shareholder and add to its non-banking revenue stream. The initiative by ICBC to acquire the 60 percent share in AXA-Minmetals Assurance comes as the Chinese bank announced that it gained a 27 percent increase in profits during the third-quarter of 2010 with net income of 42.6 billion yuan (US$ 6.4 billion) up from 33.6 billion yuan (US$ 5.05 billion) in the previous year. ICBC - the world's largest bank by market value - will invest 1.2 billion yuan (US$180 million) for a 60 percent stake in the French joint venture company AXA-Minmetals Assurance. The deal will subsequently mean the company being named ICBC-AXA Life Insurance Company. The general management of the business will headed by the AXA-appointed president. The deal struck by ICBC and AXA-Minmentals will strengthen the company's presence in an ever developing insurance market. Henri de Castries, Chief Executive of AXA said "AXA has full confidence in the business growth opportunities in the Chinese market and this cooperation with ICBC is ideal to increase our respective interests and presence in the Chinese insurance market." The link with AXA-Minmetals will facilitate ICBC's entry into the Chinese life insurance market and add to its non-banking business, gaining access to the health, retirement, education, children and wealth insurance products. ICBC chairman Jiang Jianqing said regarding the deal: "ICBC boasts a strong customer base, complete service network and increasingly expanding influence in both domestic and global markets. ICBC's investment in AXA-Minmetals is an important initiative to promote the comprehensive operation strategy and build core competitiveness. ICBC will fully leverage our leading advantages in banking industry to fully promote this strategic cooperation. We believe this strategic cooperation of ICBC with AXA and Minmetals will bring sound investment returns to the shareholders as well as quality and all-round financial services to customers." ICBC's substantial stake in AXA-Minmetals will provide a sound basis for the newly formed company to penetrate the expanding insurance market in China, which has seen company consolidations in 2010, and will enable it to compete with dominant domestic players such as Ping An and China Life in order to gain market share. China's second largest insurer Ping An announced plans to merge with the Shenzhen Development Bank in September 2010. This will increase Ping An Insurance's presence across the country linking with Shenzhen Development Bank's outlets, expanding the reach of Ping An Insurance and improving prospects for market growth. ICBC continues the trend of large corporations investing in the Chinese insurance industry reflecting the value of the market which is estimated to be worth US$100 billion. Businesses have been keen to bolster their presence in the world's second largest economy which is set to continue to grow. Since the onset of the 2007-2008 financial tsunami and the adverse impact on global markets - followed by the subsequent partial recovery - international insurers, banks and finance institutions have been looking for new avenues to develop income growth; China has emerged at the forefront of business opportunities in this direction. In the same week, ZURICH Financial Services (Zurich) announced that it will maintain a 20 percent stake in New China Life Insurance (NCI) worth US$420 million - a move justified in order to keep a foothold in China's fast-growing insurance sector. Also Taiwanese based Fubon Life has agreed to enter into a joint venture with China based Nanjing Zijin Investment to create a life insurance company. Insurers have been particularly active in 2010 looking for opportunities to increase their presence in the Chinese insurance market. This recognizes the prospects derived from a country with a population exceeding 1.3 billion people, composed of an increasingly more prosperous middle-class sector looking for financial and life protection as their personal wealth increases. Also, the Chinese economy has been confirmed as the second largest in the world in 2010, providing global insurers with a large degree of confidence that ventures into this market is justified. Since tight restrictions on financial trading where lifted in September 2009, the Chinese financial services market has opened up, leading to an influx of international and domestic investment transactions, with global players spearheading business ventures. The AIA Group, through its pan-Asian life assurance subsidiary AIG, plans to target middle class citizens in China by opening up offices in second and third tier cities to capitalize on sales. This follows their much published floatation on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. In 2010, insurers already established in China have boosted their paid up-capital; this includes Allianz China General Insurance - a subsidiary of multi-national Allianz - and the joint venture between ING and Bank of Beijing. These moves by insurers are in anticipation of the Chinese insurance market offering a scope for premium increase. Domestic China insurers - China Life Insurance (CLI), Ping An Insurance Group of China (PAIGC) and China Pacific Insurance Corporation (CPIC) - have continued to be robust this year, although the market has been more competitive with new entrants to the Chinese insurance industry. The China Insurance Regulatory Commission (CIRC) has also granted existing insurers in China permission to expand operations in different provinces. This has benefitted the likes of Taiping Life, Liberty Insurance Company Limited (LICL), Manulife-Sinochem, MetLife, Chubb and other established insurers enabling them to improve the disposition of their operations and reach across China. Since the Chinese Financial Regulator's lifting of restrictions on banks from investing in the insurance sector in September 2009, there has been a surge in business activities in the insurance market in China. This has been lead by Chinese banks, looking to gain access to this lucrative and expanding sector. Notable transactions include the Bank of Beijing acquiring a 50 percent stake in ING Capital Life and Bank of China agreeing terms for a 51 percent stake in Heng An Standard Life. The Government of the People's Republic of China has eased restrictions and regulations within the country's financial markets, with the aim of liberalizing the market in order to facilitate the country becoming a leading world financial hub. As a result, direct foreign investment is expected to continue to be attracted to the Chinese insurance markets. Companies Mentioned: AXA-Minmetals Assurance AXA life insurance and healthAXA-Minmetals Assurance is the first Sino-French insurance company in China and also the first life insurer approved by China Insurance Regulatory Commission. Established in Shanghai in May 1999, the company has boasted stable and sustainable development with its ambition of Becoming the Preferred Company. In September 2010, AXA-Minmetals has achieved a total premium income of RMB 830 million, increased by 54% compared to the same period of last year and its new business volumes have also increased by 75%. ICBC ICBCBy the end of 2008, ICBC had altogether 385,609 employees and 16,386 domestic and overseas branches, providing extensive and high-quality financial products and services to 190 million personal clients and 3.1 million corporate clients. Zurich Zurich InsuranceHeadquartered in Zurich, Switzerland, Zurich Financial Services Group is an insurance-based financial services provider with a network of subsidiaries and offices in North America and Europe and also in Asia-Pacific, Latin America and other markets. Zurich is one of the world's largest insurance groups, and one of the few to operate on a truly global basis. With 60,000 employees serving customers in more than 170 countries, our business is concentrated in three business segments: General Insurance, Global Life, and Farmers. Allianz Allianz InsuranceAllianz Group is one of the leading global services providers in insurance and asset management. With approximately 153,000 employees worldwide, the Allianz Group serves approximately 75 million customers in about 70 countries. On the insurance side, Allianz is the market leader in the German market and has a strong international presence. AIG The American International Group - AIGThe American International Group is a leading international insurance organization with operations in more than 130 countries and jurisdictions globally.
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