Update: Swiss Re Weighs Investment in Chinese Insurer Anbang, Say Sources

By | October 21, 2018

China’s attempts to find new investors for Anbang Insurance Group Co. are gathering pace, as Cerberus Capital Management LP to Swiss Re AG size up the embattled insurer and its overseas operations.

Cerberus and Swiss Re are among parties that have held preliminary discussions about buying a stake in Anbang, people with knowledge of the matter said. Temasek Holdings Pte has separately held on-and-off talks over the past several months about investing in Anbang and some of its assets, Bloomberg News reported last week.

New York-based Cerberus has also discussed the possibility of acquiring some of Anbang’s overseas holdings in Europe and the rest of Asia, one of the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private. Chinese officials have been gauging Swiss Re’s interest in Anbang’s foreign assets as well, the people said.

Any deal would add to the $454.5 billion of acquisitions involving Chinese companies announced this year, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Anbang owns Antwerp-based insurer Fidea, Dutch insurer Vivat and Belgian lender Nagelmackers. It also holds a controlling stake in South Korea’s Tongyang Life Insurance Co. and has a portfolio of luxury hotel properties.

Officials have been seeking strategic investors both at home and abroad to take stakes in Anbang since China temporarily seized the acquisitive insurer earlier this year and sentenced its former chairman to prison. A body that’s owned by some of China’s biggest insurance firms is also considering an investment, people with knowledge of the matter said last week.

Multibillion-Dollar Fraud

The companies haven’t decided whether to proceed, and Chinese authorities have also approached other potential investors, according to the people. Temasek, the Singapore state investment firm, is not currently in any active negotiations, people with knowledge of the matter said last week.

Representatives for Cerberus and Swiss Re said the firms have no comment, while China’s insurance and banking regulator didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment. A representative for Anbang said the company doesn’t comment on market speculation.

China said Anbang’s former chairman masterminded a multibillion-dollar fraud and used unauthorized sales of investment-type policies to prop up the company’s capital. Authorities have indicated fresh investors will eventually replace an industry security fund that injected 60.8 billion yuan ($8.8 billion) of capital into Anbang in April to keep the Beijing-based insurer as a private business as opposed to a state-owned one.

Attractive Assets

While China’s life-insurance market is already the world’s second largest, the potential for further expansion is huge considering the nation’s still-low insurance penetration rates. Anbang and its affiliates also hold a wide range of financial licenses, from property insurance to banking, asset management and leasing, and they’re very valuable, particularly because such permits are getting more difficult and time consuming to obtain.

Swiss Re, the country’s biggest reinsurer, said in May it would continue to welcome an anchor investor after Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank Group Corp. ended its pursuit of a stake. The two firms had been discussing a strategic cooperation amid a wave of consolidation in the industry driven by rapid technological change and sluggish growth in insurance premiums.

Zurich-based Swiss Re is also exploring an initial public offering for its U.K. closed-book business dubbed ReAssure next year, it said in August, as it looks for more third-party capital for the unit.

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