At a recent media summit in Shanghai hosted by AXA, senior leadership at the company lamented on the growing Chinese middle class and the opportunities that exist in the region for life insurers. In fact, they noted that by 2030, Asia as a whole will represent 65 percent of the worldwide middle class — quite a large piece of the pie.
Sure, it’s not easy for life insurers to just begin selling products anywhere in Asia, but the truth of it is, the payoff can be greater than the risk.
The following are three life insurance companies that see the opportunity in China and are succeeding in selling to a completely different demographic in the world’s most populous country.
Back in mid-2012, AXA teamed up with ICBC, the largest bank in the world by terms of assets and market capitalization. The joint venture it formed, ICBC-AXA, operates in more than 20 major cities and provinces in China in a quest to become the country’s leading life insurer.
AXA’s first quarter 2015 filings show that playing in the Chinese market is paying off. New Business Annual Premium Equivalent (APE) was up 4 percent on a comparable basis, which was mainly driven by the strong sales and new product launches for Protection & Health in Southeast Asia (including the Philippines), India and China.
Knowing the company is playing in a different type of market, the company has devoted much of its time and resources to online sales. The company is enjoying success in selling life insurance and annuity products, not only through ICBC branches throughout China, but also through ICBC-AXA’s website and ATM-like terminals — some of which have proved difficult for insurers in the U.S.
“We want to further diversify our geographical presence and our activities, while improving our operational efficiency,” AXA Chairman and CEO Henri De Castries, 60, has said. “This will allow us to have good results despite the low interest rate environment.”
(Photo: AXA Chairman and CEO Henri De Castries, AP Photo/Francois Mori)
Recognizing China’s technology dependence and savviness, MetLife launched a new digital platform targeting the needs of its expanding middle class for easy-to-purchase life insurance and protection products. MetLife’s Digital Ecosystem is the first in China to fully integrate online and offline sales, service and social channels.
Together with MetLife’s WeChat (the Twitter of China) capability, real-time analytics, customer relationship management and social media integration, it gives consumers the opportunity to select and compare insurance products, receive quotes, buy online, connect with a local agent or channel of choice, make payments, or check on claims from any mobile or desktop device.
“We spoke to Chinese consumers, and we learnt that they want easy to understand products and that clearly correspond with their life-stage need’s; they also told us that these products need to be transparent and convenient and easy to purchase,” said George Tan, CEO of MetLife China. “Through MetLife’s China digital channel, we are responding to Chinese consumers’ needs with a way of getting insurance how they want and when they want it.”
With the company’s focus on selling through social, MetLife hopes to become a major competitor in the Chinese insurance market — and it seems to be well on its way.
3. HSBC Life
HSBC, a London-based banking and financial firm, planted roots in China with the unveiling of HSBC Life Insurance Company Limited (HSBC Life) in 2009. Headquartered in Shanghai, HSBC Life acts as a channel for distribution and also employs an agency force for product sales.
In 2011, HSBC Life reported premium growth of 151 percent. In 2013, the company was named “Growth Insurer of the Year” by China Insurance Marketing magazine and, in 2015, the company launched its first Retirement Life Event in Beijing.
The company is so confident in the future of the Asian economies (and how it bodes for insurance), that it recently cut 25,000 jobs worldwide to refocus its efforts on the emerging Asian areas, including China. The company said last week it will “pivot to Asia,” prioritizing and accelerating investments in the region, including in China’s Pearl River Delta and in Southeast Asia. It will place a particular focus on building its Asian insurance and asset management operations.
As the Economist noted in an article from June 13, Asians are becoming older and richer, which should mean plenty of business for insurers.
Indeed, it will mean plenty of business for those companies that take the risk.