Saturday, March 11, 2006

Manulife Plans Major Growth Arc in China

Shanghai Daily, Zhang Fengming, 11 March 2006

Manulife Financial Corp, the world's fourth-biggest life insurer, plans to boost its presence in China tenfold over the next decade to tap the country's growing demand for personal financial protection.

"We want to grow as rapidly as possible in China and expand all our business, including premiums, offices and sales force, at least five to 10 times over the current size," Dominic D'Alessandro, chief executive officer of Manulife, said yesterday in Shanghai.

China is the No. 1 priority for Manulife in its overseas expansion blueprint though the market does not represent a big piece of the total now, he said.

At present, Asian markets account for 25 percent of the Canada-based financial firm's revenue.

Manulife entered China's life insurance market by joining hands with Sinochem Corp in 1996 to unveil the nation's first life insurance joint venture, Manulife-Sinochem Life insurance Co Ltd.

The unit accounts for 1 percent of China's life insurance sector and 7 percent of the Shanghai market. The firm is speeding its expansion in China as the country opens access to the insurance market.

Manulife-Sinochem has set up 14 offices in China, 12 of which opened in the past three years.

The venture broke even in six years, the company said.

"China is a strategic and long-term market that Manulife attaches great importance to," D'Alessandro said, adding that his firm is also interested in tapping China's fund management sector.

China's insurance industry has expanded by more than 25 percent annually over the past decade as the country's continuing economic boom has boosted personal incomes and the government promoted the sector to absorb part of nation's US$1.7 trillion in household savings.

D'Alessandro, who began to steer Manulife in 1994, said the joint venture's premiums will grow at least 50 percent this year.

Manulife-Sinochem collected premiums exceeding 700 million yuan (US$86.96 million) in 2005, up 17.46 percent from the previous year. The venture's total assets gained 34 percent to 2.06 billion yuan in the same period.

The insurer has launched more than 30 new products in China in the past decade.
MarketWatch, Theresa Davidovitz, 10 March 2006

Shanghai -- Canada's Manulife Financial Corp. aims to grow the business of its China joint-venture by ten times in the coming decade, as the venture expands its geographic reach, Manulife's chief executive said Friday. "Certainly, we would easily see a business that's five or ten times larger than it is now in ten year's time," Dominic D'Alessandro, president and chief executive of Manulife told reporters.

He said this target referred to "all aspects" of the business of Manulife-Sinochem Life Insurance Co., Manulife's insurance JV in China.

Manulife (International) Ltd. has a 51% stake in Manulife-Sinochem, with China Foreign Economic and Trade Trust & Investment Co., an arm of China's Sinochem group that holds the remaining 49%.

The JV has been expanding its geographic reach in China the past few years as the government eased restrictions on foreign insurers after the country joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, D'Alessandro said.

Nonetheless, the company's offices are now mainly located along China's wealthy east coast, in cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou.

"I would expect that in ten year's time, Manulife-Sinochem will become a nationwide insurer, present across all the major cities...of China," D'Alessandro said.

The size of Manulife-Sinochem's sales force could grow to 50,000 agents in ten years from about 5,000 now, he said.

Most of the products insurers currently sell in China are basic ones, such protection and endowment products, D'Alessandro said.

"But in time, we think that we will see the Chinese government encourage the wealth management business, the pension business, the group business. So you'll have a more comprehensive and broader insurance market," he said.

Manulife-Sinochem holds less than a 1% share of China's insurance market by total premiums, although this figure is about 7% in Shanghai, where the company is based, according to data from Manulife.

D'Alessandro said China's insurance market is "very competitive." Domestic insurers, such as China Life Insurance Co. (LFC), still control about 90% of China's insurance market, while "practically every major insurance company in the world is here," he said.

Like Manulife, many overseas financial services companies, including Germany's Allianz AG (Holding) (AZ) and Prudential PLC (PUK) of the U.K., have set up insurance JVs in China, seeking to tap the country's swift economic growth.

Manulife-Sinochem, which was set up 10 years ago, has been "modestly profitable" the last four years, D'Alessandro said, without elaborating.
KN News Desk, 10 March 2006

China's first joint-venture life insurer Manulife-Sinochem Life Insurance Co Ltd expects its premium earnings to rise rabidly this year, on the strength of quick geographical expansion in the past two years, China Daily reported Saturday.

"Based on what we knew about licence applications and new office openings a few months ago, we expect at least 50 percent growth in our premium earnings," the English newspaper quoted president and CEO of Manulife Financial Dominic D'Alessandro as saying.

The Shanghai-based joint venture insurer posted 700 million yuan (87.5 million U.S. dollars) in total premium income in 2005, an increase of 17.5 percent over the previous year, according to the newspaper.

The company's premium growth outpaced the market average in Shanghai last year, but lagged behind the rate posted by the city's foreign-invested insurers.

Premiums collected by all Shanghai-based life insurers rose by 5.4 percent to 24.4 billion yuan (3.1 billion U.S. dollars) in 2005. Insurance premiums gathered by 24 foreign-invested insurers rose by 27.1 percent to 5.82 billion yuan (727 million US dollars), the daily said.

In 10 years time, the joint venture insurer expects its premium income to be 10 times its current figure. A similar growth rate is also expected in its total assets, geographical presence and number of employees, it added. Manulife-Sinochem began operations in Shanghai in November 1996. The joint-venture insurer's Chinese parent company is China Foreign Economy and Trade Trust and Investment Company under Sinochem Corporation. Manulife Financial holds a 51 percent stake of MSL while Sinochem holds the remaining 49 percent.