Tycoon Richard Li weighs insurance IPO

Hong Kong billionaire Richard Li formed FWD Group after buying ING Groep's insurance and pension units in Hong Kong, Macau and Thailand in 2013. A listing of FWD would cap his return to the Asian insurance industry.
Hong Kong billionaire Richard Li formed FWD Group after buying ING Groep's insurance and pension units in Hong Kong, Macau and Thailand in 2013. A listing of FWD would cap his return to the Asian insurance industry.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Sources say his FWD Group has held discussions with investment banks about a possible listing

HONG KONG • Billionaire Richard Li is laying the groundwork for a potential initial public offering (IPO) of his insurance company FWD Group after five years of building the business through acquisitions, people familiar with the matter said.

FWD, which is backed by Swiss Re, has held preliminary discussions with investment banks about a possible IPO as part of regular meetings about the insurer's strategy, according to the sources. The company is weighing a listing as early as the next couple of years, the sources added, asking not to be identified because the information is private.

Hong Kong is under consideration as a possible listing venue, one of them said.

FWD, which manages more than US$26.6 billion (S$36.3 billion) of assets, had over 2.7 million customers across eight Asian markets at the end of last year, according to its website.

Mr Li, the son of Hong Kong's richest man Li Ka Shing, 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.

A listing of FWD would cap Mr Li's return to the Asian insurance industry after he sold Pacific Century Insurance Holdings to Fortis in 2007.

First-time share sales in Hong Kong have raised US$6.3 billion this year, compared with US$7 billion during the same period in 2017, data compiled by Bloomberg shows.

Deliberations are at an early stage and there is no certainty they will lead to a transaction, according to the sources. The timing of any listing could slip depending on market conditions, they said.

FWD bought American International Group's Japanese life insurance unit last year, after earlier making acquisitions to expand into Singapore and Vietnam. The company's minority shareholders include Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC and RRJ Capital, the private-equity firm run by former Goldman Sachs Group partner Richard Ong and his brother Charles, its website shows.

Thailand is FWD's biggest market in terms of customers, followed by Hong Kong and Macau, according to its website. The insurer has more than 4,100 employees.

Mr Li, 51, has a net worth of about US$4.4 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

His business empire includes HKT, the US$10 billion phone carrier that dominates the Hong Kong fixed-line market, and its parent company PCCW, which runs the city's most popular pay-television service.

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2018, with the headline 'Tycoon Richard Li weighs insurance IPO'. Print Edition | Subscribe