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ZhongAn online insurance seeks partners for growth

By Luo Weiteng | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2018-03-20 21:27
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ZhongAn Online Property & Casualty, the Chinese mainland's first and largest online-only insurance technology (insuretech) company, is looking to join hands with the banking and insurance industry to build up a loyal customer base with the proactive use of blockchain technology, chief executive officer Chen Jin said at a Hong Kong media conference on Tuesday.

This comes after the Chinese mainland's plan to combine its banking and insurance regulators, the China Banking Regulatory Commission and China Insurance Regulatory Commission, was announced this month during the two sessions.

"Basically, the insurance industry itself calls for a stringent and well-designed regulatory framework. Today, more and more of our business falls under the dual-supervision of banking and insurance regulators," Chen told China Daily in a group interview on Tuesday.

The Shanghai-based company, founded in 2013, which started its business with "shipping return insurance", where consumers pay a small fee to cover the return of products bought on e-commerce giant Alibaba's Taobao website, booked a net loss of 996 million yuan ($157 million) in 2017.

The losses were "well expected" in its prospectus filed with the Hong Kong stock exchange in September and were largely blamed on the increase in unearned premium reserves and the huge investment to bolster the company's high-growth trajectory, said ZhongAn Chief Financial Officer Francis Tang on Tuesday.

The insuretech company generated an insurance premium income of 6 billion yuan in 2017, representing growth of 74.7 percent year-on-year. Total revenue reached 5.6 billion yuan, translating into a year-on-year increase of 63.6 percent.

Chen reiterated that the company remains at a stage of "high growth" and "high investment", but is moving closer to making profits for years to come. He didn't set a timetable.

"The nature of being an insurance technology company does give us a leg up to reduce costs and manage risks in a more efficient way, which will be eventually reflected in our earnings performance," Chen said.

Shares of ZhongAn remained flat at HK$68.6 on Tuesday. The Hang Seng Index edged up by 0.11 percent, or 36.17 points, to finish at 31,549.93 points.

The company, backed by the "three Mas" - Alibaba founder Jack Ma Yun, Tencent's Pony Ma Huateng and Ping An Insurance chairman Ma Mingze - made a stellar market debut in Hong Kong through a $1.5 billion listing, the first of its kind for an internet-only insurer, in September last year.

With an oversubscription of 391.7 times from retail investors and a share rally of as much as 18 percent on its trading debut, the flotation set the stage for an initial public offering (IPO) spree from financial technology (fintech) firms or the so-called "new economy" companies to Hong Kong, whose bourse has long been dominated by real estate developers, traditional financial institutions, oil companies and industrial firms.

China Literature, Yixin Group and Razer joined the fray to present an IPO bonanza for Asia's financial center last year and paved the way for other promising new economy firms, including Xiaomi and Ping An-backed Good Doctor and Lufax to follow suit this year.

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