Bank of China turns focus to life insurance market
BOC lured towards more income, larger revenue streams
The Bank of China has set its sights on the mainland's lucrative life insurance market, with a possible eye towards acquisitions as a way to increase income and expand its revenue streams, according to chairman Xiao Gang.
Mr Xiao, on a trip to Hong Kong, yesterday said the mainland's third-largest lender could achieve its goals either though acquisitions, forming its own life insurance company, or working with other life insurers on the mainland.
'We are considering all of these and hope we can have a life insurance business as soon as possible,' he said. He added that the bank had talked with regulators and had their support in principle, but that unspecified details needed to be resolved.
In the first 10 months of the year, total insurance premiums reached 583.54 billion yuan, up 24 per cent from a year ago.
Of that amount, life insurance premiums accounted for 367.12 billion yuan, a 22.5 per cent increase, according to China Insurance Regulatory Commission data.
Mainland banks are not allowed to run their own insurance businesses, except to act as agents for other insurers.
Mr Xiao agreed that there were some regulatory restrictions but he said the opportunity still existed and the development of multiple financial businesses was likely to become more common on the mainland.
He added that BOC Group Insurance, the bank's Hong Kong subsidiary, had a branch on the mainland that was incorporated locally and was allowed to offer non-life insurance products without restriction.
'It also provides us a platform for future acquisitions,' he said.
Mr Xiao said the bank would also consider acquisitions to expand overseas, provided they complemented its current businesses.
However, he said the bank had no specific target.
For now, the bank will focus on organic growth.
He noted that the bank already had offices in 28 countries, where there were many business opportunities, especially as more trade flows between the mainland and overseas countries.
'We will increase capital for the outlets, if necessary,' he said.
As for the bank's balance sheet, BOC has set aside an additional US$322 million against possible losses on its United States subprime-backed assets in the third quarter.
This came after it set aside 1.1 billion yuan - about US$149 million at current exchange rates - in the first half.
It held US$7.95 billion in asset-backed securities and collateralised debt obligations in the third quarter, down from US$9.7 billion the previous quarter.
Mr Xiao said whether the bank needed to make further provisions would depend on asset revaluations by February next year.
He said the outstanding balance of subprime-related investments, accounting for 2.8 per cent of the bank's securities investment, had decreased gradually.
This was partly due to the return of principal and interest rate payments.
BOC is looking at either acquisitions or forming its own companies
Year on year, the first 10 months of 2007 saw total insurance premiums up: 24%