MassMutual Asia reported 28 per cent year-on-year growth in first-half profit this year to $66.5 million as the Sars outbreak provided a boost for the insurance sector. The company is an arm of United States-based MassMutual Financial Group, one of the world's largest life insurance and mutual fund firms. In Hong Kong, it is engaged in individual life insurance and pension business. Elroy Chan Siu-yuen, managing director and chief executive of MassMutual Asia, said Sars had been a key reason for the profit growth. 'The outbreak has led Hong Kong people to be more aware of the need for family protection. This has helped our agents to sell more individual life policies,' Mr Chan said. Individual life insurance sales rose 20 per cent in the first six months with new premium income of $181 million. Total premiums rose 26 per cent to $700 million. In the second half, the company plans to launch more health-related insurance products to meet market demand. 'After Sars, people are more conscious about their health and this is a good opportunity for the health insurance business,' Mr Chan said. The company will also introduce products combining accident insurance and saving plans. The company has 1,640 agents which Mr Chan would like to see rise to 2,000 by the end of the year. The company has also set up an alliance with Bank of America to sell products through the lender. Mr Chan said bancassurance had been such a trend that it would expand its sales channels by linking with two more banks. Another area of expansion for the company is its pension business. Mr Chan said pension contributions had risen 22 per cent in the first half from a year earlier. He said the launch of the Mandatory Provident Fund in 2000 had increased the awareness of retirement protection. 'With the ageing of the population in Hong Kong, we believe the pension business will continue to grow,' Mr Chan said. For the year, he believes the company will see 30 per cent rise in new premiums to $460 million. Mr Chan said the company would continue to look at opportunities to buy other financial institutions in Hong Kong, Japan and Malaysia but it had no concrete plans.