Mainland insurance industry reforms are on track and foreign insurers can expect a larger share of the rapidly expanding sector in the years to come, according to Patrick Poon, ING Insurance's chief executive for greater China. 'In some ways, it is easier for us to get regulatory approval in China than in the United States,' Mr Poon said in an interview in Beijing. The government lifted geographic restrictions on foreign insurers at the end of last year, in accordance with World Trade Organisation accession commitments, but some in the industry have complained about approval requirements in individual regions and cities that sometimes favour domestic firms over foreign-funded ones. Mr Poon compared the situation with economies such as the US, where insurers must apply for operational licences in each state. 'The government has kept all its promises, despite the perception of inefficiencies in the approval system,' he said. ING has two life insurance joint ventures in China - Shanghai-based Pacific Antai and ING Capital Life, a partnership with the investment arm of the Beijing municipal government. China's insurance market is expanding at double-digit rates as the government dismantles the 'iron rice bowl' of social welfare services left over from the communist era. Many investors also view the insurance industry as an attractive alternative to the dismal capital markets, which have traded at eight-year lows in recent weeks. All of the world's largest insurers have a presence in China, although those in the life insurance business are still limited to maximum 50 per cent stakes in joint ventures. By contrast, companies selling property and casualty insurance face no such restrictions. In Beijing alone there are 24 life insurance companies, 13 of which are joint ventures with foreign industry giants. 'I'm sure there are more to come,' said Alex Wong, general manager of ING Capital Life. At the moment, foreign insurers have a combined market share of only 2 per cent to 3 per cent, but Mr Poon expects the balance to change. 'Looking at the trend in other countries like Japan, we expect foreign insurers to play a much larger role in China's insurance sector in the future,' he said.