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German insurer to expand in Asia

THE ERGO Insurance Group plans to increase its international business to one-third by 2012 from its current one quarter contribution, with China a key growth engine, senior executives said.

The German insurer, a Munich Re Group subsidiary, is focusing on selected Asian markets in its international expansion after setting up a sound business in Europe, ERGO Chairman Torsten Oletzky told a group of Asian reporters in Dusseldorf, where the Germany's second-biggest primary insurer is based.

"We will take a prudent and stable approach in our internationalization," said Oletzky. "We won't dash into overseas markets with foolish steps. We won't take risks that we don't want."

Premiums from overseas markets accounted for 24 percent of the insurer's total premium in 2008, up from 9 percent in 1998.

Jochen Messemer, chairman of ERGO International, said growth potential was the main attraction for the insurer in countries such as China, India and South Korea.

ERGO's international business grew 13 percent last year in terms of premium and the overseas business is expected to post further double-digit growth, said Messemer.

The insurer tagged China and India as two "phenomenal" growth markets in Asia with high growth rates, low insurance penetration and profit potential.

The company will venture into tier-2 cities in China, where market potential is yet to be realized, with a planned life insurance joint venture. It has identified Liaoning, Hebei, Henan, Sichuan and Shandong provinces.

"A broader range of products and setting up our own sales agency are two key strategic initiatives," said Messemer.

ERGO has signed a letter of intent with a Chinese partner on the life insurance joint venture, said Andreas Kleiner, a member of the board of ERGO International who covers Asian markets.

The company is also setting up a micro-insurance project with non-profit bodies in China.

Micro-insurance is small-sum insurance affordable to low-income individuals or small enterprises.

ERGO has launched a number of micro-insurance initiatives in India and also taps into Munich Re's experience in this field in markets such as Indonesia, Colombia and South Africa.


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