Ping An Insurance

Former Citigroup retail banking head Larsen joins Ping An to head US$1 billion fintech, health-care fund

World’s most valuable insurance brand has been building a strong reputation for technological investments, most notably developing Lufax, the Chinese wealth management platform

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 May, 2017, 9:17pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 May, 2017, 10:51pm

Jonathan Larsen, who quit Citigroup at the end of last year as its global head of retail banking and mortgages, has joined Ping An Insurance (Group) to oversee a newly created US$1 billion investment fund focusing on financial technology (fintech) and health care around the globe.

The appointment of the renowned US banker, widely considered a leading light in digital banking, came after the second largest insurer in China said it would also continue investing about US$1 billion annually in internet development following the creation of a clutch of online businesses such as Lufax, its online wealth management and lending platform.

Larsen will also become Ping An’s chief innovation officer, according to a statement by the company’s chairman Peter Ma Mingzhe, which added his appointment would help the business “constantly keep pace with the development of the latest technologies and follow the trend of financial technologies”.

Ma said Larsen was expected to help conduct drastic innovation in its business models and accelerate its internationalisation drive.

Previously based in Hong Kong, Larsen had been striving to double Citigroup’s digital banking users in Asia before resigning in December “for personal reasons”. He joined the US banking giant in 1998 and was named global head of retail banking in 2012.

The fund now under his control at Ping An was expected to attract more capital from global investors, the company said, without giving further details.

Lufax edges closer to creating international equity trading platform for Chinese investors

Last month, Jessica Tan Sin-yin, the chief operation officer at Ping An, told the South China Morning Post that the group would from now on spend about 1 per cent of its annual revenue on new technology as it reported sales of 774.5 billion yuan (US$112 billion) in 2016, up 11.7 per cent from a year earlier.

Ping An is very much viewed by the market as a financial conglomerate rather than just an insurer with its burgeoning business empire also encompassing banking, securities, trusts, fintech, health care and investment. Lufax, for instance, is considered as the world’s second largest fintech firm, valued at US$18.5 billion.

Over the past decade, the group has diversified heavily into online amid the rising popularity of the internet in China, and Tan said 22 per cent of its new customers now came from the web.

China’s fintech sector has been growing in leaps and bounds over the past five years as the burgeoning middle classes increasingly use their mobile phones for online shopping, payments and even buying wealth management products.

Lufax is also gearing up to launch a platform to facilitate mainland investors’ asset allocation around the globe by teaming with overseas money managers.

Larsen is the latest senior foreigner to join Ping An. About half of the group’s senior managers are now from outside the mainland. Gregory Gibb, a former consultant with McKinsey, is chief executive of Lufax, for instance.

In late April, Ping An was named the world’s most valuable insurance brand by Britain’s Brand Finance, surpassing Germany’s Allianz.