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MassMutual Sees `Tremendous' Asia Opportunity With Yunfeng Deal

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Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. Chief Executive Officer Roger Crandall said there’s room for more growth in Asia after his firm acquired a stake in Yunfeng Financial Group Ltd., a company backed by billionaire Jack Ma.

“We see tremendous opportunities in Asia, but scale really matters and technology really matters,” Crandall said Tuesday in an interview on Bloomberg Television. The company agreed last month to sell an Asian unit to a group of investors and gain a stake in Yunfeng. “We’re going to continue to have an equity interest and we’re really excited about the wealth-management opportunities there.”

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MassMutual is among U.S. insurers with interests abroad. Prudential Financial Inc. agreed in July to take a stake in a unit of Indonesia’s CT Corp. and last year struck a deal to purchase a Brazilian group life-insurance operation. The Yunfeng equity stake will allow MassMutual to capitalize on growth in the region, Crandall said.

“We certainly hope” to do more business with Yunfeng, Crandall said. “The growth opportunities are big.”

A Yunfeng-led investor group agreed last month to buy Hong Kong-based MassMutual Asia Ltd. for $1.7 billion, with part paid in Yunfeng stock. Ma, founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., controls another investor in the MassMutual deal, Ant Financial.

“The whole Alibaba ecosystem has tremendous technical capabilities and we’re excited to be partnering with them,” Crandall said.

MassMutual sees opportunities in asset management, and in acquiring pension liabilities from employers seeking to offload risk, Crandall said. Policyholder-owned MassMutual last year teamed up with MetLife Inc. to take on $1.6 billion in obligations from PPG Industries Inc.

“We expect to do several billion dollars of business this year, and there’s probably a lot more out there to come,” Crandall said. “There’s a lot of business out there, we think it’s a growing market. And like everything else we do, we need to make sure we’re understanding the risks. It’s a natural offset to our life-insurance business, the mortality.”

Life insurers have been under pressure from low interest rates, which squeeze the income they can earn on some investments backing obligations to customers. Investors are searching for clues about further interest-rate hikes or the unwinding of the Federal Reserve’s $4.5 trillion balance sheet as the central bank begins a two-day meeting Tuesday.

“In the life-insurance industry, the long end of the curve is much more important to us,” Crandall said. “We would love to see higher long-term rates, but we’re not going to build our business plan around it.”

—With assistance from Vonnie Quinn and Shery Ahn.

—-Read How to Compromise on Universal Health Care on ThinkAdvisor.

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