Innovation from East improves Dutch insurer

By Chen Meiling | China Daily | Updated: 2017-06-19 07:40

Innovation from East improves Dutch insurer

Anbang sales staff explain the insurer's products to visitors at the Beijing Internatonal Investment and Wealth Management Expo. [Photo/China Daily]

Last month, 37 Dutch insurance agents landed in Beijing to visit Anbang Insurance Group and learn about modern methods and applications of technologies such as data analysis in their business.

Associates of Dutch insurer Vivat, the 37 agents traveled at the invitation of Anbang, which had bought out the former from state-owned Dutch banking group SNS Reaal for 150 million euros ($169million) in 2015.

Their visit is proof that Chinese companies' overseas M&A's, or mergers and acquisitions, are not all about expansion and profit. They are also about sharing knowledge, resources, relationships and technologies.

Michael Bieger, CEO of Apple Tree, a Dutch financial advisory, was one of the 37 visitors. He said his colleagues have all worked at the same building with the endowment insurance group of Vivat for 17 years. But since last year, they began to learn more about Anbang and established business cooperation with the latter's staff.

Bas de Voogd, who runs a 100-year-old insurance broking firm in the Netherlands, said Vivat has turned into a better enterprise, in terms of human resources and team work, after Anbang took it over. "Vivat is changing itself and we've more faith now in doing business with it."

Improvement is also showing in Vivat's financial performance. Net profit reached 159 million euros in 2016, up 50 percent year-on-year. Its solvency margin ratio, a measure of insurance companies' capability to repay the debts, increased from 161 percent in 2015 to 175 percent last year.

Ron van Oijen, CEO of Vivat, told media that though costs and expenses grew due to organizational restructuring, the company benefited from a closely knit, more active team.

Edwin Grutterink, property insurance manager of Vivat, said the company learnt financial innovation from Anbang and now optimizes many of its insurance products.

Using big data technology and analytics, product pricing has been customized for different customers, compared with a rather fixed model in the past, he said.

"I showed the dynamic pricing model to the supervisors of the insurance industry in the Netherlands. They showed much interest in it and said it will pioneer financial innovation in the industry," he said.

After the takeover by Anbang, Vivat relocated its managers to Amstelveen where all employees could work together to improve efficiency, he said.

Hans Visser, Vivat's endowment insurance manager, said, initially there were doubts about the future of Vivat after Anbang's takeover, but now there is only "positive feedback".

"We should learn innovation not only from the West but the East," Visser said.

In the past two years, Vivat has appointed many experienced professionals from various insurance agencies. They know the market well and can communicate directly with corporate customers, he said.

"Last summer, many agents asked whether the investment from China was long term or short term. So, we brought them here (to China)."

Anbang Insurance, founded in 2004, began overseas M&A's in 2014. First, it invested $1.95 billion to buy Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York.

It then purchased Belgian insurance company Fidea and the Netherlands' based Delta Lloyd Bank Belgium in the same year.

In 2015, it picked up a 57 percent stake in Tongyang Life Insurance of South Korea.

Tongyang's insurance premium reached 3.7 trillion won ($3.29 billion) from January to June in 2016, up 90.7 percent year-on-year, Anbang said in August 2016.

Last year, it bought Strategic Hotels & Resorts from US' Blackstone Group for $6.5 billion.

The Beijing-based insurer owns assets across the United States, Europe and Asia worth more than 1.9 trillion yuan ($0.28 trillion) and has 35 million customers worldwide, according to its website.

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