Overseas insurers to push growth

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 September, 2008, 12:00am

Foreign insurance companies are expected to boost their mainland market share to 10 per cent from 6 per cent by 2011 despite growing concerns about the volatile stock market and tighter regulatory environment, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey.

Twenty-eight of 40 executives at foreign insurers on the mainland indicated in a poll conducted between May and June that they would continue to emphasise sales growth, followed by market share and operating income.

'The increasing affluence in China will stimulate the need for protection products and insurance providers recognise that the current market is under-served,' said Peter Whalley, an assurance partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Most foreign life insurers project annual premium growth of 30 per cent to 50 per cent this year and over the next three years. Foreign insurers offering property and casualty protection expect to record modest growth of 20 per cent to 40 per cent.

These are lower than projections of 75 per cent to 100 per cent in a similar survey in May last year.

'There has been a precipitous decline in the sale of unit linked products due to the stock market decline,' said Mr Whalley (above).

The Shanghai Composite Index has lost 59.49 per cent since its peak in October last year. The index is the world's worst performer this year.

By comparison, domestic life insurers recorded 63.94 per cent premium growth in the first half, while local property and casualty insurers grew 19.85 per cent, according to the China Insurance Regulatory Commission.

Despite the fast life premium growth, the stock market slump has eroded profits of local insurers.

China Life Insurance, the country's leading life insurer, saw 24.36 per cent growth in premiums in the first half but profit fell 31.99 per cent on investment loss.

'If the mainland stock market remains weak, growth of insurers will be hindered generally,' Mr Whalley said. 'Foreign insurance companies cannot invest outside China and most therefore follow the market.'

Standard & Poor's said the industry's rapid growth and volatile investment markets had put great pressure on the solvency of some insurers.

'Chasing market share is very common, particularly among second-tier or new domestic firms,' said S&P credit analyst Connie Wong.