Mon, Feb 20, 2012 - Page 12 News List

Allianz eyes insurance market boost

CONFIDENCE SHAKEN:The eurozone’s debt problems are dampening demand for insurance products even though local financial institutions have very limited exposure

By Crystal Hsu  /  Staff Reporter

Allianz Taiwan Life Insurance Co (安聯人壽), the nation’s leading supplier of unit-linked insurance products, will continue to focus on the same market segment and expects sales to pick up in the second half of this year, top executives said on Saturday.

The local unit of the German insurance giant saw its total premium income fall 41 percent to NT$53.7 billion (US$1.82 billion) last year, as the global economic slowdown and market fluctuations chilled confidence, company data showed.

“Last year was the most challenging” year since the world emerged from the global financial crisis in 2008, Allianz Taiwan president and chief executive Chris James said.

The performance sank the company’s earnings ranking to ninth place last year among domestic competitors, four places down from a year earlier, James said.

The insurance veteran linked the retreat to the impact of international events and market volatility that would continue to overshadow the industry in the coming months.

“The chance of a concrete recovery in confidence is slim because of the European debt crisis,” James said.

The eurozone’s fiscal woes are impacting Taiwan’s export-driven economy and dampening demand for insurance products even though local financial institutions have very limited exposure to European debts, James said.

Allianz Taiwan is not looking to shake up its business strategy, but aims to consolidate its status as the leading brand in unit-linked insurance products, James said.

The company spent more last year on advertising and promotional activities, including inviting a local money management expert Xia Yun-fen (夏韻芬) to serve as spokeswoman and producing a series of brand-building TV ads.

“In 2012, we will develop products that are cost-effective in -meeting the needs of customers and sustainable, for the company to be profitable,” he said.

However, Allianz would not seek to boost sales by selling policies with high or guaranteed interest rates, as domestic insurers have done, accumulating heavy liabilities over the years because of negative interest spread, James said.

The lower interest rates, while helping direct funds into investment, is increasing the purchase cost of insurance policies and weakening their appeal, Allianz Taiwan senior vice president Tom Yang (楊承清) said.

“The era of high profitability is over for the life insurance sector as low interest rates make sales of insurance policies increasingly difficult,” Yang said.

James, who is also chairman of the European Chamber of Commerce Taipei, urged the government to double the tax deductable ceiling on purchases of life insurance policies.

The limit has stood at NT$24,000 for many years despite consumer price inflation. A higher cap would better motivate Taiwanese to plan retirement funding, an issue that is gaining importance given the nation’s rapidly aging population, James said.

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