Rewards outweigh the risks in insurance

Updated: 2013-09-16 08:16

By Cecily Liu in London (China Daily)

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The success of Lloyd's Shanghai underwriting office has led the company to apply for licenses to open an underwriting office in Beijing. Nelson says he expects this application to be cleared by the commission over the next 18 months.

"We will expand our Chinese footprint in a consistent manner. Beijing is an important destination and the China headquarters for several global insurance companies. That is why we are keen to open a new branch there," Nelson says.

He says that while Shanghai will still host the majority of Lloyd's underwriting business, having an additional branch in Beijing will make it more attractive for international insurance firms wanting to enter China through Lloyd's.

He says Lloyd's plan to open a Beijing underwriting office has already attracted interest from some syndicates, and the scale of this underwriting office will depend on the number of syndicates willing to send underwriters to Beijing.

While reinsurance is its main business in China, Lloyd's is also making progress with its direct insurance services. Nelson says that the direct insurance business, for which it got commission approval in 2010, is relatively small in scale, but could see considerable pickups in the long term.

Lloyd's is also banking on attracting Chinese insurance companies to join the Lloyd's market so that they can take advantage of the more diversified marketplace, Nelson says.

"At the moment, most of the capital for Lloyd's comes from North America, Bermuda, the UK, Europe and Japan. We want more capital to come from countries such as China, India and Turkey," Nelson says.

Currently there is only one Chinese carrier on Lloyd's. China Re, the Chinese national reinsurance company, entered the Lloyd's market in 2011 through a partnership with the Bermuda-based insurance and reinsurance company Catlin.

Nelson says he hopes Lloyd's can attract more Chinese carriers to its market and expects this to happen in tandem with the surge in Chinese outbound deals.

"As more Chinese enterprises internationalize, the demand for global insurance cover will also surge. Chinese insurance carriers may want to follow their clients internationally, and markets such as Lloyd's can provide them with the necessary infrastructure," Nelson says.

He says if Chinese carriers become syndicates of Lloyd's, they will also have access to Lloyd's license worldwide and also benefit from the Lloyd's brand. Lloyd's expertise in risk assessment for insurance business could also be a helpful tool for Chinese companies, he says.

China's insurance market has opened up significantly since the country joined the World Trade Organization, but restrictions on foreign capital still exist and, consequently, the total market share of foreign insurance companies in China is still only around 1 percent.

However, global accounting firm Ernst & Young said in a report released in June that foreign insurers' market share could grow fourfold by 2018, as the regulatory landscape gradually opens.

Major contributory factors for the growth have been the opening-up of the third-party motor insurance market to foreign players in February 2012 and the market-based pricing introduced a month later. These changes allow foreign insurers to develop their own rates and provisions, E&Y said in the report.

Nelson agrees that the restrictions for foreign players in motor insurance have given domestic companies a big advantage. But he remains optimistic that foreign insurance carriers can still look for growth opportunities in the business-to-business insurance sector.

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