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Allianz seeks to bulk up in Asia in wait for market permit

Updated: 2017-06-23 07:54

German insurance group, Allianz SE, helped turn around asset manager Pimco in the United States.

Now, it is trying to bulk up on the other side of the world.

"Asia is still a relatively small part of the overall global portfolio but it holds a very big promise," George Sartorel, Asia-Pacific chief executive officer of Allianz, said in an interview.

Allianz seeks to bulk up in Asia in wait for market permit

George Sartorel, chief executive officer of Allianz Asia-Pacific. [Photo provided to China Daily]

"We have kept quiet in Asia, but our goal is to accelerate growth in the region. We see it really as the growth engine for Allianz," he added.

While it has managed to turn around Pacific Investment Management Co, Allianz has lost ground to other European insurers in the Asia-Pacific region, where a growing middle-class is driving demand for insurance. The region generates only about 4 percent of its premiums. Prudential Plc in London draws about 36 percent from Asia and Paris-based Axa SA about 10 percent.

"In terms of premiums and earnings, Asia is almost negligible at Allianz at the moment and compares poorly to Axa and even more so to Prudential," said Nick Holmes, an analyst at Societe Generale SA who covers the companies.

"Both Axa and Prudential have stronger historic ties to the region, which might be an advantage," he added.

Allianz joined with Standard Chartered Plc earlier this year to sell general insurance in the region through the bank's branches and digital platforms. In China, the Munich-based company is awaiting a license to sell online insurance nationwide in partnership with search engine Baidu Inc and asset manager Hillhouse Capital Management.

"While we got positive signals from the regulator, I think we need to be patient," Sartorel said. "If we pull that off, that is something transformational for us in China, giving us access to 800 million potential customers."

It remains to be seen how profitable a partnership with China's biggest search engine could be for Allianz, Societe Generale's Holmes said.

Banking partnerships are no bargain either for insurers. Allianz paid Standard Chartered about $200 million upfront to sell its general insurance products in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and China. The lender expects to receive at least $1 billion in payments over the 15-year life of the bancassurance agreement, including profit-sharing, people with knowledge of the matter said at the time.

It was still good value, according to Sartorel, 59, who oversaw Italy and Turkey at Allianz before taking on the Asia-Pacific role in 2014.

"We're confident because penetration is low and Standard Chartered is committed to the business model that we are planning to deploy across the geography," said Sartorel, who is responsible for markets including China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan and the Philippines.

Allianz is also in talks with a number of potential partners to expand its life insurance business in China, he said.

The insurer already operates a fully owned non-life insurer in three provinces and a life insurer that is present in eight of provincial-level regions in China.

Sartorel ruled out a joint venture with a mainland bank because of the low margins for insurers.

About two thirds of Allianz's insurance products in Asia are sold through agents and the remainder through partnerships with banks including HSBC Holdings Plc.

Likewise, Axa has joined with Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd to sell life insurance in China. It offers non-life insurance through a joint venture with Tian Ping Auto Insurance Company Ltd.

"We will in the future do more digital partnerships" Sartorel said, referring to the Standard Chartered agreement. "How do I compete with Ping An Insurance, which has a million agents on the street in China? Forget it."


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