AXA on the lookout for more targets

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 March, 2012, 12:00am


After a deal that made it the city's largest general insurer overnight, AXA says it will look for similar buying opportunities to maintain its edge.

AXA, Europe's largest insurer and one of the largest life insurers in Hong Kong, last week bought HSBC's general insurance business in Hong Kong, Singapore and Mexico for US$494 million, in the largest such deal in the city.

'We'll continue to eye buying opportunities if it fits our business strategy,' Stuart Harrison, the Hong Kong chief executive of the French insurer, said after announcing the deal.

AXA is a big player in the life insurance and pension businesses. The acquisition gives it an opportunity to dominate in general insurance, too.

As HSBC was the largest player in the general insurance market last year, the deal gave that position to AXA, which also raised its market share to 12 per cent from 5.7 per cent.

Harrison said the deal was part of AXA's target to become the largest general insurer in Asia and among the top three life insurers by 2015.

It has boosted the company's general insurance business capacity substantially as it has not only obtained HSBC's customers and policies but also its 240 staff.

The deal also includes a 10-year agreement under which HSBC will exclusively sell general insurance for AXA in Hong Kong, mainland China, Singapore, Mexico, India and Indonesia, which, Harrison said, would add an important sales channel for AXA.

'We have 4,000 life insurance agents, one of the biggest sales teams in the city. Now we have the biggest bank in Hong Kong and Asia selling our general insurance products,' he said.

AXA has gone through several mergers and acquisitions since last year, with a particular focus on expansion in Asia. 'AXA takes Asia very importantly as this is the region with the fastest economic growth,' Harrison said.

For HSBC, the sale was part of chief executive Stuart Gulliver's plan to rid the bank of non-core businesses and cut annual costs by US$3.5 billion by next year.

Sun Hung Kai Financial executive director Joseph Tong Tang said the acquisition would boost AXA's market share and business range but he sounded a word of caution: 'The general insurance business in Hong Kong is very competitive as there are many providers in this market.'

Tong said regulatory hurdles also made it difficult to grow the general insurance business in the city. According to mainland rules, Hong Kong companies buying policies to cover their operations on the mainland must buy from insurers there.

'This limits the opportunities for Hong Kong-based general insurers,' Tong said.