Cablegate: U.S. Insurance Giant Advocates Multinational Approach To

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1. (U) This message contains company proprietary information.
Not for Internet distribution.

2. (SBU) Summary. U.S. insurance giant Liberty Mutual chose to
open its first PRC branch (and later subsidiary) in southwest
China's Chongqing, rather than enter the bruising Shanghai
market like many other foreign insurers. Chinese law
discriminates against foreign insurers by 1) blocking
acquisitions of other insurance companies; 2) requiring
consecutive applications to open successive branches, usually
with a wait of at least one year; and 3) not allowing them to
write mandatory, third-party auto insurance, the most profitable
part of the business. China protects its domestic market to
give it more time to develop; foreign firms are stronger in
claims/risk research, and enjoy stronger brand images. Liberty
Mutual has endured years of losses, and advocates that foreign
governments and insurers "band together" to convince the Chinese
government to promise a 10-year plan for market liberalization.
End Summary.

Major U.S. Insurance Company Targets Southwest China

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3. (U) Liberty Mutual -- the fifth-largest property and casualty
(P&C) insurance company in the United States -- first entered
the China insurance market in 1993, its China subsidiary CEO
Jackson Tang told Consul General recently. Liberty Mutual chose
to open a branch to sell P&C insurance in Chongqing rather than
Shanghai, where there were "too many P&C companies already." In
2007, Liberty Mutual converted its Chongqing branch office into
a wholly owned subsidiary, mainly to take advantage of lower
capital requirements for subsidiaries (RMB 20 million) versus
branches (RMB 100 million). There are 18 local, Chinese
insurance companies in Chongqing; New York-based MetLife also
has a 50-50 joint venture (JV) there. (Note: Foreign life
insurance companies must be JVs, Tang explained, while P&C
insurance companies can be wholly owned. End Note.)

Three Ways China Unfair to Foreign Insurance Companies

--------------------------------------------- ---------

4. (SBU) Tang complained that Chinese law discriminated against
foreign insurance companies in three ways:

1) Draft regulations that currently govern the insurance market
do not allow foreign insurance companies to have two separate
legal entities. This means, for example, that foreign insurance
companies are not allowed to buy other insurance companies in
the same line of business.

2) Foreign insurers must apply consecutively to open each new
branch. Approval of each new branch usually takes at least one
year. Expanding its operations beyond Chongqing, Liberty Mutual
received approval in 2009 for a branch office in Beijing, and is
now in the process of applying for a branch in Hangzhou.

3) Foreign insurers are not allowed to write mandatory,
third-party liability auto insurance. Instead, they are only
left with the least profitable parts of the auto insurance
business -- physical damage and excess third-party insurance.
Auto insurance currently accounts for 70 percent of China's
total insurance market. Physical damage is the "worst part" of
the auto insurance market because China has no deductibles -- a
customer could run up operating costs, for example, by
presenting a claim for one USD. Moreover, in order to sell
excess third-party insurance, Liberty Mutual is forced to work
with local insurance companies that sell mandatory third-party
insurance since no customer buys only excess insurance. This
means that local Chinese insurance companies are taking the
"good part of the business even though Liberty Mutual finds them

CHENGDU 00000020 002.2 OF 002

the customers." (Note: Tang also asserted that China had, so
far, failed to honor a WTO commitment to open up the mandatory
third-party auto insurance business to foreign insurance
companies. This issue was being addressed by both governments
in the frameworks of the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade
(JCCT) and Strategic and Economic Dialogue (SED), he added. End

Beijing Protects Immature Insurance Market;

Central and Provincial Regulators Also a Macro-Barrier

--------------------------------------------- ----------

5. (SBU) Beijing maintains these protectionist measures because
it believes the Chinese insurance market remains immature, and
wants to give local insurers more time to develop, Tang said.
Market opening will be "gradual, and years in the making," he
predicted. Another "macro-barrier" to market access is how
China has both the central government regulator in Beijing ( the
China Insurance Regulatory Commission), as well as insurance,
banking, and stock market regulators in the provinces, Tang
asserted. At the same time, he added, this macro barrier has
been less of an issue for Liberty Mutual because it has
maintained good relations with Beijing regulators, and the local
Chongqing government.

Liberty Mutual Stronger Than Local Competitors ...

--------------------------------------------- -----

6. (SBU) Liberty Mutual is much stronger than local P&C
insurers, Tang confided, which tend to be weak in claims/risk
research. Local insurers are jealous of Liberty Mutual, which
enjoys a high industry ranking, good relations with regulators,
and a strong brand image. Chinese customers tend to believe
that foreign insurers are more reliable and provide better
service. Liberty Mutual is already the sixth largest of 18
competitors in Chongqing (as well as the sixth largest of 17
foreign P&C companies in all of China), he noted.

... But Has Suffered Years of Losses


7. (SBU) Despite this growth, Tang explained, Liberty Mutual's
China business is still not profitable because it does not have
sufficient scale and, most importantly, because it lacks access
to the market for mandatory, third-party auto insurance. He
recounted how his head office in the United States gives him
grief about continuing losses, forcing him to provide assurances
that one day the company's China operations will be very

Foreign Governments/Insurers Need

Unity to Pressure for Market Access


8. (SBU) So far, more foreign insurance companies want to enter
the China market than exit it, Tang said. This higher
enter-exit proportion will continue as long as the (loss-making)
foreign insurers continue to have a "wait and see" attitude
toward whether the PRC will grant further market access. Tang
claimed that foreign governments and companies have been too
fractured in their approach to lobbying China on market access
("a plate of sand"). He advocated that foreign governments,
insurers, and banks "band together" to convince Beijing to
promulgate, for example, a "10-year plan" for liberalization.
In the meantime, he stressed, Liberty Mutual would be ready to
"eat 10 years of losses."

© Scoop Media

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