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Richard Li's FWD acquires insurer MetLife's Hong Kong business

Enoch Yiuenoch.yiu@scmp.com

FWD Group, the insurance arm of Hong Kong tycoon Richard Li Tzar-kai's Pacific Century Group, has agreed to acquire MetLife Hong Kong's business, it said on Friday. Li is the younger son of Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong's richest businessman.

The acquisition, the latest in a string of takeovers by FWD across Asia in recent years, will expand its business and, analysts expect, help pave the way for a potential listing.

"Having crunched the financials, the numbers will probably have told Mr Li this purchase will add to the size of the share price for the rumoured IPO of FWD in 2020," said Glenn Turner, chief operations officer at financial planning company Altruist Financial Group.

The price for the deal, subject to regulatory approval, was not disclosed, but a Bloomberg report this week quoted a source as saying it would be less than US$400 million.

FWD will honour all existing MetLife policies in Hong Kong. "MetLife Hong Kong is highly complementary to our existing business, and the acquisition is another step towards fulfilling our ambition to build a leading pan-Asian life insurance platform," Huynh Thanh Phong, FWD's chief executive, said.

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"The acquisition signifies our confidence in the long-term growth potential of Hong Kong, and we will continue to commit substantial resources to grow our business in this compelling market."

Rebecca Tadikonda, MetLife's head of strategic growth markets in Asia, said FWD was a well-positioned insurer, while it was committed to further grow its business, which made it the "right steward" for Metlife's customers, agents and staff.

The takeover follows a wave of mergers and acquisitions in Hong Kong, as the industry expands partly because of an influx of mainland Chinese coming to Hong Kong to buy policies.

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FWD itself was born from a takeover deal. In 2012, Dutch financial services company ING sold its Hong Kong business to Pacific Century Group. The insurer was renamed as FWD. It now has more than 2.8 million customers across Asia.

FWD has spent at least US$361 million on six acquisitions across Asia over the past five years, according to data provider Dealogic.

In its biggest deal before MetLife, FWD agreed to buy 80 per cent of PT Commonwealth Life, the Indonesian life insurance arm of Commonwealth Bank of Australia, for US$301 million in October last year.

In three deals in 2016, the company spent US$21 million to take over Shenton Insurance in Singapore, US$36 million on Great Eastern Life in Vietnam; and US$3 million on American International Group's Japan insurance arm, Fuji Life.

"Quite a few insurance companies have changed hands in the past" for growth, either organically or through M&As, which are the most popular ways of achieving this, said Gary Cheung, chairman of the Hong Kong Securities Association.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2019 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.