Ian Lancaster arrived in the mainland in 1993 to work on acquiring a licence for his employer, the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies. On August 2, he received the licence and yesterday hosted a lunch to celebrate. 'I thought it would take four years,' the regional manager said. 'Along with telecommunications, insurance is one of the most politicised industries. The Nato bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade [in May 1999] shut everything down for seven to eight months.' In April last year the China Insurance Regulatory Commission (CIRC) invited the United States-based Chubb to apply for a property and casualty insurance licence, to serve companies with a foreign equity share of at least 25 per cent in Shanghai. Now he has the licence, Mr Lancaster has to obtain approvals from the State Administration for Industry, tax, customs and foreign-exchange authorities and have a final CIRC inspection. He hopes to open the branch on October 1, National Day. Chubb is the fifth foreign non-life insurer to receive a licence, after American International Group, Tokio Marine & Fire, Winterthur and Royal & Sun Alliance. It will compete for a market Mr Lancaster estimates is worth about US$200 million a year from 600 to 1,000 foreign-invested companies in Shanghai. 'Four foreign and 10 Chinese companies are after this market. The Chinese firms have about 70 per cent of the market. We would like 5 per cent of the market in three to four years. We can break even in six years,' he said. The market is supposed to become more open to foreign insurers once the mainland joins the World Trade Organisation. In an agreement signed with the European Union in May, Beijing agreed to allow foreign insurers to sell to mainland customers within three years all services except mandatory third party liability car insurance. 'We have been the pioneers,' Mr Lancaster said. 'There should be a clearer track for those who follow. The process will be simpler and depoliticised.'