The Korea Herald


Foreign insurers struggle to join mainstream

By 신용배

Published : April 28, 2011 - 18:47

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Despite their long presence in Korea, global giant life insurers still don’t come close to their major local rivals in terms of size, according to industry sources Friday.

Nine foreign life insurers operating in the country hold 68.9 trillion won ($63.7 billion) in assets, or 16.9 percent of the industry’s total. The figure does not even meet half of that held by industry leader Samsung Life Insurance, which manages 144.8 trillion won in assets. 

Industry experts say the figure is small given their decades of presence in the country.

“Consumers have strong tendency for local products when it comes to life insurance. And local players have a firm grip of the market so I don’t think there can be major changes to top players,” an industry official said.

The nine are Life Insurance Company of North America, or LINA, Metlife, Allianz, Cadiff Life Insurance, Prudential, Ace Life, AIA Life Insurance, ING Life Insurance and PCA Life.

ING Life has the biggest with 19.5 trillion won of assets, followed by Allianz, Metlife and AIA Life with 13.5 trillion won, 11.2 trillion won and 9 trillion won each.

The insurance premiums of the nine last year made up 20.7 percent of the industry, or 16.7 trillion won and their net profit stood at 736 billion won, or 21.8 percent of the sector.

Foreign life insurers first entered the local market back in 1987 when LINA first opened up its Seoul branch. Foreign insurers, often with centuries of history, have been adding diversity to the local market preoccupied with deposit-like products. Variable life insurance, non-dividend products and insurances covering the whole life were introduced into the domestic market since then.

Despite their rich experience, the groups’ insurance premiums don’t even exceed that of Samsung life which collected 21.2 trillion won of fee last year.

Local players aren’t doing well abroad either, showing the challenges foreign life insurers face in penetrating the conservative market.

The Financial Supervisory Service said overseas operation of eight local life insurers incurred 14.1 billion won of net loss last year. It is a 5.8 billion won jump, or 70.6 percent increase from 2009.

“The figures probably include one off setup cost but their loss has been consistent. We plan to advise them on ways to reduce costs while diversifying revenue sources,” a FSS official said.

By Cynthia J. Kim (