Growing Overseas Operations of Korean Insurers in 2022
Korean insurers’ global expansion drive
Insurers in Korea are increasingly looking to overseas markets for growth opportunities. With the domestic market becoming saturated and competition intensifying, expanding internationally has become a crucial imperative for insurers seeking to diversify their portfolios and tap into new markets. In particular, they have been attracted to Southeast Asian markets such as Indonesia and Vietnam, where rising middle-class populations drive demand for insurance and other financial products.
As of the end of 2022, 11 Korean insurers (four life insurers and seven non-life insurers) have a total of 39 overseas operations, up from 35 in 2020, according to the Financial Supervisory Service (FSS). An overseas operation here refers to an overseas branch or a subsidiary in which the parent company holds over 50% ownership. A subsidiary is the most common form of overseas operations for Korean insurers, with 28 subsidiaries and 11 branches as of late 2022.
Their presences span 11 different countries around the world. Many of the overseas business operations of Korean insurers are based in Asia, with five in Vietnam and four each in China and Indonesia. Vietnam has been emerging as an attractive market within the Southeast Asian region, given its rapid economic expansion, young population, and proximity to neighboring countries in the Indochinese Peninsula. The size of its insurance market is still small, but the market has been growing fast and holds enormous growth potential. It has a low insurance penetration of 2.3% as of 2022, even lower than the average rate of emerging Asian markets (3.6%), while Korea’s rate stands at 11.1%, one of the highest in the world, according to the latest data provided by Swiss Re.
Outside Asia, there are 12 in the United States (U.S.), three in the United Kingdom (U.K.), and one in Switzerland. In 2022, two subsidiaries were newly set up - one in the U.S. by Hanwha Life and one in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) by Seoul Guarantee Insurance (SGI). Hanwha Life established a real estate investment company in San Francisco in June 2022 to expand its investment in overseas properties and enhance its alternative investment portfolios. In October 2022, SGI converted its representative office in Dubai into a subsidiary, based in the Dubai International Finance Centre (DIFC), in order to expand its business activities in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
Korean Re is one of the pioneers that have actively expanded into global markets, setting up the largest number of overseas operations in the Korean insurance industry. It has eight overseas operations – four subsidiaries and four branches. The latest addition to its global operation network was KoreanRe Insurance Services, Inc., a reinsurance intermediary established in New Jersey in 2021. Since CEO Won took office in June 2013, he has pushed ahead with an overseas business expansion drive, leading Korean Re to broaden its global business network. Over the past ten years, Korean Re has built several new presences, including Korean Re Underwriting Ltd. at Lloyd’s of London in the U.K., the Labuan branch in Malaysia, the Dubai DIFC branch in the UAE, Korean Reinsurance Switzerland AG in Zurich, Switzerland, and the Shanghai branch in China.
Samsung Fire & Marine Insurance (SFMI) is another trailblazer, with six subsidiaries and one branch across the world. The insurer is reported to target the general property and casualty (P&C) insurance sector in global markets. With general P&C insurance being one of its main areas of focus, the company is seeking to generate substantial revenue from overseas subsidiaries in Vietnam, China, Singapore, Indonesia, and other countries. Generally, the growth of the P&C insurance market goes hand in hand with the development of industries and an increase in individual income. Developing countries are showing relatively high growth rates compared to other economies, and the Korean P&C insurer is actively expanding its reach in these emerging markets, taking advantage of their promising growth potential.
Overseas expansion continued during the first half of 2023, with a couple of insurers acquiring stakes in foreign insurers. For example, DB Insurance acquired two Vietnamese insurance companies by purchasing a 75% stake each in Saigon-Hanoi Insurance Corporation (BSH) in June and Vietnam National Aviation Insurance in February. In March 2023, Hanwha Group completed the acquisition of a 62.6% stake in Lippo General Insurance, a member of Indonesia's Lippo Group, the sixth-largest business group in Indonesia. Hanwha Life Indonesia took a 47.7% stake, while Hanwha General Insurance acquired 14.9%. A press release by Hanwha Group says that this acquisition will reinforce Hanwha Life Indonesia's existing life insurance business and facilitate the establishment of a wide-ranging product portfolio covering both life and non-life insurance.
Business performance of overseas operations of Korean insurers in 2022
The Korean insurance industry saw their business results from overseas operations improve substantially in 2022 thanks to premium income growth. Their aggregated net income soared by 34.9% year on year to USD 123 million. Insurance business operations reported USD 112 million in net income, up 23.4% from the previous year. Financial investment operations and others reported a net income of USD 10.7 million. Although the business results varied from country to country, operations in Asia showed better performance.
Life insurers reported solid business results, recovering from pandemic-driven setbacks in face-to-face marketing activities. The improvement in net income was also driven by their non-insurance operations, such as the real estate rental business. Non-life insurers also experienced a rise in profit, backed by business growth in emerging Asian markets.
The total assets held by the overseas business operations of Korean insurers declined by 3.5% to USD 6.33 billion year on year at the end of December 2022. Their liabilities also decreased by 4.5% to USD 3.78 billion, and the total shareholders’ equity amounted to USD 2.55 billion, down 1.9% from a year earlier. The deceases were primarily due to the exclusion of Samsung Property & Casualty Insurance Company (China), Ltd., a subsidiary of SFMI, from the calculation of total assets and liabilities by the FSS after its conversion into a joint venture between the insurer and China’s tech company Tencent. SFMI’s ownership in its Chinese entity fell to 37%, making the entity classified as its affiliate instead of its subsidiary.