Looser rules to boost life insurers

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 December, 2013, 4:30am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 December, 2013, 4:30am

Fitch Ratings says mainland life insurers' increasing product diversity will support quality growth in the sector next year, as the regulator considers relaxing restrictions on insurance staff selling products through banks from next year.

"The proposed lifting of the ban [on the presence of insurance staff in banks] could reinforce the sales networks of insurance companies," said Fitch director Terrence Wong. That was particularly important as insurance companies offered more complex products with risk-protection elements that required trained insurance staff to explain them.

Fitch is maintaining its stable outlook for the mainland life insurance sector, based on the rated insurers' resilient market positions, adequate capitalisation and external funding capabilities. The ratings agency is also maintaining its stable outlook for non-life insurers next year, although it expects intense competition to put their underwriting margins under pressure.

The China Banking Regulatory Commission is encouraging insurance companies to sell more protection-type products instead of savings-type products from next year. Wong said risk-protection products were more profitable.

The mainland authorities removed the interest rate cap on some guaranteed life products in August and announced more reforms last month aimed at encouraging insurers to provide more types of insurance policies to strengthen social security.

Greater product diversity could ease competition and differentiate insurers from banks' insurance products, Fitch said in a report released yesterday.

Gross written premiums of life insurers grew 8.5 per cent in the first nine months of this year, compared with full-year growth of 4.2 per cent last year. The insurers' continued earnings volatility and fierce competition among homogenous products were key rating constraints, Fitch said.