Hong Kong Life Insurance may go up for sale: Sources

HONG KONG • Hong Kong Life Insurance, one of the last remaining independent life insurance businesses in the financial centre, could be put up for sale in a deal that may fetch about US$600 million (S$813 million), people familiar with the matter said.

The unlisted insurer's owners - five Hong Kong financial institutions - are working with adviser Nomura Holdings on the future of the company, which may lead to a sale, they told Reuters. It was not clear when a decision would be reached.

Great Eastern Holdings is considering bidding for the company, sources said.

Hong Kong Life Insurance is the latest insurance asset likely to be put on the block in the territory at a time of strong interest in such businesses, especially from Chinese suitors, who are drawn to the steady cash flow in a stable foreign currency that they provide.

Hong Kong is a developed life insurance market, with a life and health insurance premium-to- GDP ratio of 13.4 per cent last year, the second highest in Asia, according to reinsurance company Swiss Re.

Still, the market offers strong growth, with Swiss Re forecasting premiums growing 9.2 per cent in 2016, making it attractive to new entrants.

Hong Kong Life Insurance was founded in 2001 by OCBC Wing Hang Bank, Asia Insurance, Shanghai Commercial Bank, Chong Hing Bank and Wing Lung Bank.

OCBC Wing Hang Bank owns a 33 per cent stake, while the others own about 16.7 per cent each.

Hong Kong Life was previously put up for sale four years ago, but the shareholders couldn't agree on a price and the sale was pulled.

OCBC Wing Hang, Chong Hing and Nomura declined to comment.

Asia Financial Holdings, which owns Asia Insurance, was not available for comment, while Wing Lung Bank did not offer an immediate response. Shanghai Commercial Bank said it does not have any information on the matter.

A spokesman for Great Eastern, which is controlled by OCBC, declined to comment. The sources declined to be identified as the information is not public.

Hong Kong Life sells insurance through 180 outlets using branch networks of Chong Hing Bank, OCBC Wing Hang, Shanghai Commercial and Wing Lung Bank.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2016, with the headline 'Hong Kong Life Insurance may go up for sale: Sources'. Print Edition | Subscribe