FWD eyeing dual-class IPO here: Sources

A Singapore listing of tycoon Richard Li's FWD Group would be a coup for SGX as it seeks to woo big-ticket listings.
A Singapore listing of tycoon Richard Li's FWD Group would be a coup for SGX as it seeks to woo big-ticket listings.

Insurer said to be in talks; also considering HK as listing venue

Hong Kong billionaire Richard Li's FWD Group is considering listing in Singapore with a dual-class structure, as the insurer moves ahead with its initial public offering (IPO) preparations, people with knowledge of the matter said.

FWD is discussing with advisers the merits of listing in Singapore using such a structure, which can offer enhanced voting power to protect the influence of founders and management, according to the people. The insurer has consulted Singapore Exchange (SGX) officials about the possibility, the people said, asking not to be identified as the deliberations are private.

The Hong Kong-based company is also considering its home city as a potential listing venue, the people said. FWD has started laying the groundwork for an IPO that could take place in the next couple of years, Bloomberg News reported in June.

A Singapore listing of FWD, which manages more than US$26.6 billion (S$36.2 billion) of assets, would be a coup for the South-east Asian exchange as it seeks to grab a greater share of deals from competing financial centres. The bourse in June joined Hong Kong in approving regulations that allow companies to list with dual-class shares.

No final decisions have been made, and there is no certainty the deliberations will lead to a transaction, according to the people. Representatives for FWD and SGX declined to comment.

The Singapore bourse has been working to attract big-ticket listings from overseas. It is considering a range of measures to woo a listing of energy giant Saudi Arabian Oil Co, people with knowledge of the matter said last year.

The exchange was pushing in 2011 to attract a share sale from English football team Manchester United, and it was seeking the next year to attract a listing of Formula One that could have raised as much as US$3 billion, Bloomberg News reported at the time. Manchester United eventually chose to list in the United States, while Formula One's IPO did not take place in part due to a volatile equity market.

FWD's backers include Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC. Other investors include Swiss Re, the world's second-largest reinsurer, and Asian private equity firm RRJ Capital.

Mr Li, the son of Hong Kong's richest man, has been building FWD through acquisitions over the last five years. He formed the company after spending US$2.1 billion to buy ING Groep's insurance and pension units in Hong Kong, Macau and Thailand in 2013.

Since then, FWD has expanded in Japan and South-east Asia and tied up with banks in the region to sell its insurance policies. The company had over 2.7 million customers spread across eight Asian markets at the end of last year, its website shows. Thailand is FWD's biggest market in terms of customers, followed by its Hong Kong and Macau business, according to its website.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2018, with the headline 'FWD eyeing dual-class IPO here: Sources'. Print Edition | Subscribe