Canada's Sun Life seeking Singapore, Thai presence

Acquisitions being considered and this move will strengthen its position in the region

HONG KONG • Canada's Sun Life Financial plans to expand into Singapore and Thailand as it looks to boost its presence in Asia where demand for insurance products is growing fast, a senior company executive said.

The insurer, which has made a flurry of takeovers in Asia in the past three years, will consider acquisitions as well as building its own presence in the two markets, Mr Kevin Strain, president of Sun Life Financial Asia told Reuters.

Sun Life, which hopes to benefit from Asia's burgeoning middle class in markets such as China and India, has not yet set any timeline for the proposed expansion, Mr Strain said.

It currently operates in seven Asian markets including China, Hong Kong, India, the Philippines and Malaysia.

A move into Singapore and Thailand would significantly bolster its presence in South-east Asia.

"These are two markets and potentially we will look at them," said Mr Strain, who is responsible for Sun Life's business interest in Asia and is a member of the company's executive team. "It's a sizeable opportunity."

South-east Asia is a battleground for foreign insurers who are attracted by the region's lower insurance penetration levels and faster growth rates for life insurance premiums than in their home markets.

South-east Asia is a battleground for foreign insurers who are attracted by the region's lower insurance penetration levels and faster growth rates for life insurance premiums than in their home markets.

Singapore, as a regional financial centre, provides an opportunity to sell products to high-net-worth clients, while Thailand, with a population of about 66 million, will give Sun Life access to a large pool of potential buyers, Mr Strain said.

Major insurance players in Singapore include Great Eastern Holdings and Manulife, which signed a deal in May with DBS Group Holdings to sell products through the lender's Asian branch network.

Sun Life took full control of its Indonesian business earlier this year, while sources in July said the Canadian firm and Malaysian sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional were in talks to buy the insurance business of Hong Leong Financial Group.

A number of insurers were also considering bids in May to buy at least 49 per cent of the US$3 billion (S$4.1 billion) insurance unit of Thai lender Siam Commercial Bank, sources said.

Mr Strain declined to comment on individual transactions.

Sun Life continues to look for takeover opportunities in Asia, he said, but noted that some targets have become expensive.

Sun Life's Asia unit accounted for 15 per cent of underlying net income in the quarter ended June this year, up from 11 per cent a year ago, according to its website.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2016, with the headline 'Canada's Sun Life seeking Singapore, Thai presence'. Print Edition | Subscribe