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Insurance Australia Group Looks to Increase Asian Investment

Posted on Jul 16, 2012 by Sergio Ulloa ()

Insurance Australia Group (IAG) is planning to expand its presence in Asia following successful initial investments worth around US$735.5 million in five countries including India and Thailand. The expansion is part of IAG's long term goal to have 10 percent or more of its premiums come from Asia by 2016. IAG's CEO, Mike Wilkins was confident that building on the company's investments was the right decision, stating that: "The Asian opportunity is here and now. Over the past couple of years we've quietly gone about our Asian strategy and are now getting real traction. We are entering an exciting phase of our Asian ambitions as we shift from a market entry focus to one of driving operational performance from our enlarged regional presence" Despite his confidence, shareholders are wary of investing even more money into Asia as it brings back memories of the company's last offshore investment; a costly and damaging expansion into the UK market. The company expanded into the UK in 2006 with the purchase of motor insurer, Hastings Insurance. The investment was considered a failure after the Hastings posted losses which in turn brought down IAG Some IAG shareholders have expressed that they want the company to focus on domestic markets rather than going abroad. Portfolio manager at Tyndall Investment Management Jason Kim said on his company's stance: "[Asia] might be exciting but it's very, very long term. They've got such a great business in Australia and New Zealand, and it would be really good to focus on that and harness that." Wilkins said IAG will be relying on the ever expanding middle class in Asia to ensure that the company's latest investments prove to be successful as it is expected that middle class consumption will experience a 200 percent increase by 2020. The investments that IAG has already made in Asia, including a venture with the State Bank of India and Malaysia's AmBank have contributed approximately 6 percent to the group's total premiums and it is next looking to expand into Indonesia. While a merger in Indonesia is still some ways away as no official deal has been reported, IAG does have a number of possible merger partners. Citing a number of reasons including Indonesia being a "very-high growth market" with "very low insurance penetration" Justin Breheny, Chief Executive of IAG's Asian operations said: "Its [Indonesia's market] got the characteristics which are very attractive to us." If a deal occurs, the company will be leaning towards a bancassurance model, teaming up with a bank to provide insurance products through the bank's existing sales channels. It is expected that the Asian businesses will collectively lose US$50 million over the short term, however it's not something that IAG executives will be losing sleep about. This is because by 2017, it is anticipated that the investments will bring in return rates of up to 17 percent, further cementing the point that the expansion into Asia is very much for the future rather than the present. One of IAG's three "developing businesses" is its joint venture with the State Bank of India. The venture resulted in the creation of the SBI General Insurance Company Limited, which IAG are hoping will be profitable by 2015. Despite existing laws stating that IAG cannot immediately add on to the 26 percent of SBI General it already owns, it still expresses hopes that in the future a change in regulations would allow it to increase its stake to 49 percent. In the meantime IAG are hoping that the joint-venture's plans to set up more distribution channels (including Bancassurance) will increase the amount of money it brings in. The other two 'developing businesses' in China and Vietnam have both initially been successful. In China, IAG own 20 percent of Bohai Property Insurance. China's insurance industry is dominated by domestic players, with foreign investors only holding 1 percent of the market, and as a result, one of IAG's big goals for the future is to increase Bohai's market share. In Vietnam, IAG own 30 percent of the country's 6th largest motor insurer, AAA Assurance. Much like China, the industry is dominated by local insurers, and through AAA, IAG are aiming to become the first foreign entrant to gain a meaningful market position by becoming one of the top 3 motor insurers. With investments in China, India and Vietnam still in their infancy, it's IAG's ventures in Malaysia and Thailand that have been the most successful for the company. In Thailand, the company owns 98.6 percent of Safety Insurance, the sixth largest general insurer and one of the top three auto insurers in the country. In the future, IAG expect to increase Safety Insurance's national presence and achieve a top two position in the motor insurance industry. While IAG only has a 49 percent stake in its joint-venture in Malaysia, it also has proven to be a good investment up till now as the product of the venture, AMG Insurance, has become one of the top ten insurers in the country. In a couple of months the company is also expected to acquire Kurnia Insurans, a merger which will make AMG Insurance the largest auto insurer in the country. In response to the seemingly positive investments made, Breheny attributed the success to a couple of elements: "Our extremely disciplined approach to market entry has resulted in an attractive portfolio of businesses, with differing stages of market development and associated growth and return profiles, but all with a clear ability to create value for the Group." Insurance Companies Mentioned Insurance Australia Group Insurance Australia Group was founded in 2000 and owns a number of smaller insurance companies around the world. It specializes in all sorts of insurance including general, commercial and auto. SBI General Insurance Company Limited SBI General Insurance Company Limited is a joint-venture between the State Bank of India and Insurance Australia Group. It has a presence in 20 cities in India and specializes in the retail, corporate and SME insurance industries. Bohai Property Insurance Bohai Property Insurance is partially owned by Insurance Australia Group. It has 25 provincial agencies and more than 200 municipal and county agencies and sepcializes in a wide variety of insurance. AAA Assurance Established in 2005, AAA Assurance is part owned by Insurance Australia Group. It boasts more than 30 branches in Vietnam and specializes in motor, property and other types of insurance. Safety Insurance Safety Insurance, a Thai insurer is 96% owned by Insurance Australia Group and deals predominantly with Motor Insurance. AMG Insurance AMG Insurance is 51% owned by AmBank Group and 49% IAG. It is Malaysia's fourth largest motor insurer and has 2,900 insurance agents. Kurnia Insurans Kurnia Insurans is a Malaysian company that was formed in 1978. It is one of Malaysia's top auto insurers and is expected to merge with AMG Insurance in the near future.
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