Hong Kong billionaire Richard Li weighs insurance IPO

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HONG KONG (June 27): Hong Kong billionaire Richard Li is laying the groundwork for a potential initial public offering of his insurance company FWD Group after five years of building the business through acquisitions, people familiar with the matter said.

FWD, which is backed by Swiss Re AG, has held preliminary discussions with investment banks about a possible IPO as part of regular meetings about the insurer’s strategy, according to the people. The company is weighing a listing as soon as the next couple years, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information is private.

Hong Kong is under consideration as a possible listing venue, one of the people said.

FWD, which manages more than US$26.6 billion of assets, had over 2.7 million customers spread across eight Asian markets at the end of last year, according to its website. Li, the son of Hong Kong’s richest man, formed the company after spending US$2.1 billion to buy ING Groep NV’s insurance and pension units in Hong Kong, Macau and Thailand in 2013.

A listing of FWD would cap Li’s return to the Asian insurance industry after he sold a previous venture, Pacific Century Insurance Holdings Ltd, to Fortis in 2007. First-time share sales in Hong Kong have raised US$6.3 billion this year, compared with US$7 billion during the same period in 2017, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

GIC Backing

Deliberations are at an early stage, and there’s no certainty they will lead to a transaction, according to the people. The timing of any listing could slip depending on market conditions, the people said. A representative for FWD declined to comment.

FWD bought American International Group Inc’s Japanese life insurance unit last year, after earlier making acquisitions to expand in Singapore and Vietnam. The company’s minority shareholders include Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC Pte Ltd and RRJ Capital, the private-equity firm run by former Goldman Sachs Group Inc partner Richard Ong and his brother Charles, its website shows.

Thailand is FWD’s biggest market in terms of customers, followed by its Hong Kong and Macau business, according to its website. The insurer has more than 4,100 employees.

Li, 51, has a net worth of about US$4.4 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. His business empire includes HKT Ltd, the US$10 billion phone carrier that dominates the Hong Kong fixed-line market, and its parent company PCCW Ltd, which runs the city’s most popular pay-television service. Li’s closely-held holding company Pacific Century Group also owns PineBridge Investments, the New York-based money manager that has about US$90.5 billion of assets.