MetLife to sell Hong Kong insurance business to FWD

FILE PHOTO: A MetLife Inc building is shown in Irvine, California

HONG KONG (Reuters) - U.S. insurer MetLife Inc will sell its Hong Kong operations to FWD, the insurance firm owned by tycoon Richard Li, the companies said in a joint statement on Friday, without disclosing financial details.

The deal is the latest in a series of acquisitions FWD has made in the region, and comes after MetLife shelved an earlier attempt to sell its Hong Kong business, worth over $500 million, to a mainland Chinese buyer.

"The acquisition is another step towards fulfilling our ambition to build a leading pan-Asian life insurance platform," FWD Group Chief Executive Huynh Thanh Phong said.

The deal highlights the attractiveness of Hong Kong's insurance businesses, which have been boosted by growing wealth in the city and Chinese visitors snapping up foreign currency-denominated products.

Hong Kong's life insurance market is well-developed, with a life and health insurance premium to GDP ratio of 17.94% in 2017, Asia's second-highest after Taiwan, according to data from insurer Swiss Re.

Hong Kong-based FWD has been aggressively expanding its Asian footprint in the last couple of years, mainly through acquisitions, as it seeks to grab a bigger share of the market from large global as well as local insurers.

In March, Thailand's Siam Commercial Bank Pcl (SCB) said it had entered into exclusive talks to sell its life insurance business to the company.

FWD, which got regulatory approval to buy HSBC Holdings' 49% stake in the London-headquartered lender's Malaysian life insurance joint venture in August, completed the deal in March.

The firm's Asian presence includes Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. The company is also awaiting regulatory approval in China to launch a life insurance joint venture.

The company plans to rename and rebrand the MetLife Hong Kong business, the statement said, adding that all existing MetLife Hong Kong policies will continue to be honoured by FWD following the change in ownership.

(Reporting by Alun John; Editing by Rashmi Aich and Jan Harvey)