BIZCHINA / Top Biz News

Zurich gets go-ahead for branch
By Hu Yuanyuan (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-05-23 09:04

Zurich Financial Services Group, a leading global insurance company, has received approval from the regulatory authority to run a property and casualty branch in Beijing, becoming the first foreign insurer to establish a general insurance branch in the capital.

"We would adopt a very focused strategy in China, being selective in our target customers, sales channel and products," Zhang XueJiang, general manager of the Zurich Insurance Company Beijing branch, told China Daily in an exclusive interview yesterday.

The new branch will mainly target corporate customers, including foreign customers with activities in China and large- and medium-sized enterprises from China, particularly those with business overseas.

Around two-thirds of Zurich's global customers are Fortune 500 companies, and quite a number of them are moving their manufacturing workshops to China.

The opening of the Beijing branch is in line with the firm's philosophy to serve customers wherever they may do business, said Martin South, CEO of the international business division of Zurich Financial Services.

Meanwhile, direct sells and insurance brokers are Zurich's two major marketing channels, in line with the company's customer-based strategy, said Zhang. "Different from other insurers that are products-oriented, Zurich focuses on customers and develops products to cater for their changing demands."

For instance, as more and more Chinese enterprises try to float their shares on the Hong Kong and overseas bourses, Zurich plans to provide director and officer's liability insurance to these companies.

According to Zhang, the main challenge facing the Zurich Beijing branch is the shortage of high-end talent such as senior actuaries and underwriters. Some employees of the Zurich Beijing branch are from Zurich Taiwan and Zurich Hong Kong, but Zhang said the company would train more local talent.

Zurich entered China's mainland in 1993, and has two representative offices in Beijing and Shanghai.

"As there are more large enterprises headquartered in Beijing than that in Shanghai, we decided to set up our first branch company in the capital city instead of Shanghai," Zhang explained.

As one of the fastest growing cities in China, Beijing saw an 11.1 per cent growth in gross domestic product in 2005. By the end of 2004, 185 of the global Fortune 500 companies had invested in the city, creating a growing demand for general and specialized insurance services.

As proof, the insurance market in the national capital rebounded by a big margin last year with gross premium earnings of Beijing's insurers reaching 49.8 billion yuan (US$6.2 billion), a growth of 78.4 per cent on 2004.

"We are quite optimistic about the future of China's insurance sector and believe the industry will maintain a double-digit growth in the next five years," said South.
According to the China Insurance Regulatory Commission, property and casualty insurance is the fastest growing segment of the industry.

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