HK awards first online-only insurance licence to Bowtie

The licence comes as Hong Kong is pushing a number of financial technology or fintech initiatives in an effort to compete better with rival centres, such as Singapore and London, to reel in more investments.
The licence comes as Hong Kong is pushing a number of financial technology or fintech initiatives in an effort to compete better with rival centres, such as Singapore and London, to reel in more investments. PHOTO: AFP

Hong Kong has awarded Bowtie Life Insurance, a company backed by Sun Life Financial's Hong Kong unit, the first online-only insurance licence under the city's "fast-track" scheme.

The online platform will operate in a market worth more than US$63 billion (S$86 billion) in insurance premiums, and will compete with players such as AIA Group and the local unit of Prudential.

Bowtie Life Insurance, which is also supported by Sequoia Capital managing partner Neil Shen's Hong Kong X Technology Fund, will offer life insurance directly to consumers rather than selling through intermediaries such as agents or banks, as is common in Hong Kong.

More than 80 per cent of customers are willing to use digital and remote contact channels including e-mail, mobile apps, video or phone instead of interacting with insurers via agents or brokers, a report by consultancy EY showed.

Hong Kong is home to a developed life insurance market, with a life and health insurance premium-to-gross domestic product ratio of 17.94 per cent last year, the second highest in Asia after Taiwan, according to insurer Swiss Re.

The licence comes as Hong Kong is pushing a number of financial technology or fintech initiatives in an effort to compete better with rival centres, such as Singapore and London, to reel in more investments.

Hong Kong's Insurance Authority's (IA) fast-track scheme was launched last year to speed up applications for insurers operating solely online.

  • $86b

    Worth of total premiums in Hong Kong's insurance market.

"The IA is closely examining a few other applications under the fast-track and will issue new authorisations as and when ready," the regulator's chief executive Clement Cheung said in a statement.

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the territory's de facto central bank and banking regulator, will issue the first licences to online-only banks in the first quarter of next year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2018, with the headline 'HK awards first online-only insurance licence to Bowtie'. Print Edition | Subscribe