Some of Hong Kong’s biggest insurers are dramatically upping their headcount of sales agents, betting that the Greater Bay Area will generate new business and that more people will buy policies in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Even against the backdrop of economic turmoil, the likes of AIA and Prudential say they are hiring more aggressively this year. The number of insurance sales staff had risen 16 per cent to 122,769 by the end of March, after 16,943 newcomers joined the industry in the previous 12 months, according to official data. The insurers’ hiring spree is in contrast to other industries which are laying people off, leading the jobless rate to hit a 15-year high of 5.9 per cent in the March to May period. Hong Kong’s economy shrank 8.9 per cent year on year in the first quarter, the worst slump since records began in 1974. It has received multiple blows, including the protracted US-China trade war, a year of anti-government protests and the Covid-19 pandemic. The expansion within the insurance sector is potentially good news for 232,400 jobless in the city, as the industry may be able to offer some of them a second career. China unveils plan to spur tighter embrace of bay area master plan AIA, the largest life insurance company in Hong Kong, plans to hire 6,000 more agents this year, 1,000 more than its average annual recruitment count. “As the emergence of Covid-19 has increased the awareness of insurance protection and risk management, we have strong confidence in the insurance industry and we would like to invite high-calibre talent to join our professional elite team of financial planners,” said Peter Crewe, AIA’s chief executive for Hong Kong and Macau. AIA’s hiring target also reflects its confidence in the bay area project – Beijing’s plan to integrate Hong Kong, Macau and nine mainland Chinese cities into an economic powerhouse. Insurance was a major sector mentioned in the blue print revealed last year. Insurers want to expand because they believe the current health crisis will lead more people to buy policies to protect their family. They are also optimistic that an “Insurance Connect” scheme – similar to existing cross-border initiatives like Stock Connect and Bond Connect – being considered as part of the Greater Bay Area project will bring them more business in the long term. An “Insurance Connect” would initially allow them to set up servicing centres in bay area cities to collect premiums, handle claims and even distribute simple insurance products in the future. “We remain confident there will be tremendous potential for business growth in the GBA, with its combined population of 71 million and GDP of US$1.6 trillion,” Crewe said. AIA would work closely with the Insurance Authority about the establishment of the services centres in the bay area cities, he added. Mainland Chinese are big spenders in the local insurance sector. At the peak, they bought HK$72.68 billion (US$9.4 billion) in insurance policies in Hong Kong in 2016, about 39 per cent of all premiums collected in the city. This declined to only HK$5.4 billion in the first quarter of this year, down 58 per cent year on year as the pandemic prevented mainland residents from coming to the city to shop for insurance products. The opening up of the bay area provides hope of a turnaround. China’s investors are piling into Hong Kong shares via Stock Connect As the sector faces a challenging time, the is set to be the next driving force for Hong Kong insurers, according to Edward Moncreiffe, chief executive of the Hong Kong office of HSBC Life, the insurance arm of the city’s biggest bank. “The latest announcements on the development of the bay area will definitely present more opportunities to the insurance industry. We fully support the development of the Insurance Connect as a means to drive closer integration of the insurance markets across the GBA, and to make it easier for customers to purchase the best insurance solutions available to them,” Moncreiffe said. Prudential Hong Kong, another major life insurer in the city, is also planning to hire 7 per cent more new agents this year, according to its Hong Kong chief executive, Derek Yung. “During this period, new talent is joining our company from other industries. Many retail and small and medium-sized enterprises are affected by the economic downturn. These new joiners are seeking opportunities in the insurance field as their second career,” he said in a telephone interview.