John Cai: Ways to stay ahead of the pack

Updated: 2015-05-15 14:04

By Hu Yuanyuan(China Daily USA)

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What distinguishes AIA China from its rivals in this emerging market is its sustained focus on safety-oriented products, Cai added.

"One must not forget that more preys always divert a lion's attention and make it difficult for them to know where to start, finally making them draw a blank."

The current development of the insurance industry does not match the development of the mainland economy, Cai believes.

Though China could probably be among top three globally in terms of total premium income this year, the country's insurance density, or the ratio of total insurance premium to total population, is just over $200, industry statistics show, far below the average of $4,000 for developed countries.

The distribution of financial assets shows a similar situation. The amount of insurance assets in the mainland is around 8.7 percent of family holdings, much less than the 28 percent in the US and even Japan, which has a similar Asian culture on money matters.

However, there is good news. And it comes in the form of the supportive policies launched by the State Council last August to stimulate the development of the industry, Cai noted.

Mainland insurance penetration is expected to reach 5 percent by 2020, according to the plan put forward by the cabinet. And insurance density is estimated to hit 3,500 yuan ($565) per person by 2020, up from the current 1,266 yuan.

According to Dagong Europe, a branch of the China-based Dagong Global Credit Rating Co Ltd, the mainland insurance market is set to expand by about 15 percent in 2014-2015, with health and non-life businesses expanding faster than the life insurance sector.

Branching out

Hao Yansu, director of the School of Insurance at the Central University of Finance and Economics in Beijing, said those measures will expand the business scope of insurers and improve their investment returns.

Such government support is reassuring, Cai said, and has helped insurance bosses like him develop a clear strategic target, especially with an emphasis on accelerating reform and openness in the sector.

AIA currently has five branch companies on the mainland, covering business in the cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, and Jiangsu and Guangdong provinces.

The population in these regions stands at 200 million but they account for a third of the country's insurance market.

"For quite some time, we preferred to explore the potential in regions where we already had a presence rather than rush to expand to other regions," Cai said. "But now, we are beginning to look for opportunities to branch out, especially in areas that have been approved to start new free trade zones, such as Tianjin and Fujian.

But life is not all work and no play for Cai - a keen golfer for more than two decades. And he takes on challenges in life in much the same way that he does on the links.

Though faced with overwhelming pressures in the initial stages taking on the top job, Cai coped with them in a leisurely manner.

"It is just like playing golf, which allows one to understand themselves better and become a strong self-driven winner at the end," said Cai.

Karan Zhang, in her fifth year as a corporate communication manager at AIA China, spoke of her admiration for Cai's integrity and clear thinking.

"He has always emphasized that credibility is the lifeline of a company. It should never be sacrificed for short-term profit," said Zhang, adding Cai's personal style has created a good working atmosphere and most staff have been with the company for more than 10 years.

Yu Hang contributed to the story.

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