Still room for newcomers in Hong Kong insurance market, says MassMutual Asia

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 July, 2017, 12:02am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 July, 2017, 12:02am

Hong Kong’s insurance market may be crowded, but there is still room for newcomers thanks to Asia’s expanding middle class, particularly in mainland China.

Growing levels of individual wealth have fuelled demand for life insurance and pension products in Hong Kong during the past two decades, according to Tay Keng Puang, managing director and chief executive of MassMutual Asia.

“The market is very competitive as there are many insurance companies in Hong Kong. But we believe offering the right protection and retirement products will always attract clients to buy. This has helped the company to grow well in the past two decades,” Tay said.

Since the handover in 1997, a lot of uncertainties have been removed. That’s been important for overseas companies to invest in Hong Kong
Tay Keng Puang, chief executive, MassMutual Asia

He believes the outlook for the life insurance and retirement industry remains positive because of Asia’s increasing wealth and ageing population.

MassMutual Asia’s roots go back to 1994, Hongkong Chinese Bank and Protective Insurance formed a joint venture called Lippo Protective Life Insurance. It was a small newcomer focused on life insurance and pensions.

US-based insurer MassMutual Financial Group took over the company in 2000 and renamed it MassMutual Asia in a bid to expand in the Asian market.

The insurer has come a long way in the past 20 years. Its sales force has increased in size from 200 at its debut to about 3,000 today.

Annual business sales rose to HK$2.1 billion (US$269 million) in 2016, up 15 times from HK$140 million in 1997.

Tan also credited the business environment in Hong Kong over the past two decades as being ideal for insurance companies to prosper.

“Since the handover in 1997, a lot of uncertainties have been removed. That’s been important for overseas companies to invest in Hong Kong. The city, which is located next to mainland China and gained support from the central government, has given confidence to foreign investors to invest,” Tay said in an interview with the Post.

Tay, a Malaysian-Chinese born in Johore, joined the insurer in 1996 to help prepare for the launch of its Mandatory Provident Fund business in 2000 and now manages its IT department. He was promoted to his current role in 2009.

The insurance industry in Hong Kong has grown rapidly. Total premiums were worth HK$448.8 billion in 2016, up from HK$52 billion in 1997, according to government figures.