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INTERVIEW-British insurer Legal & General to launch Japan operation - CEO
2. November 2017 / 19:55 / vor 23 Tagen

INTERVIEW-British insurer Legal & General to launch Japan operation - CEO

* Japan operation to start with 6 people, focus on funds, pensions

* Firm could increase 15 bln stg UK direct investment programme

* Fund arm will only move small number of staff to Dublin

* Rising UK rates positive for business

* Scope for purchases in 140 bln stg UK closed annuity market

By Carolyn Cohn

LONDON, Nov 2 (Reuters) - British’s third-largest insurer, Legal & General, is launching an operation in Japan to offer company pension scheme insurance and investment management, Chief Executive Nigel Wilson said on Thursday.

The move by L&G comes as European peers such as Allianz and Aviva have scaled back from other Asian markets such as Taiwan.

The $21 billion company, which manages 1 trillion pounds ($1.31 trillion) in assets in its fund arm, has sold a number of its European businesses in recent years to focus on operations in Britain and increasingly in the United States.

Japan has an ageing population which L&G sees as a key driver of growth in its existing markets, as it fuels demand for companies to cut their pension scheme risks.

“We’ve just got approval from the Japanese regulator - you’ll see us win business very quickly,” Wilson told Reuters in an interview.

“We are evolving. America and Japan, given the size of the markets there, are two great opportunities for us.”

The Japanese operation will initially employ around six people and focus on L&G’s investment management and retirement businesses, Wilson added. It would not offer retail pensions, an L&G spokesman said.

Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM) already sells funds to Chinese, Korean and Taiwanese customers but doesn’t have local operations in those countries, Wilson said.

DIRECT INVESTMENT

LGIM offers liability-driven investment products, matching pension funds’ assets to their liabilities, typically using derivatives. It is also one of Britain’s biggest managers of index-tracking, or passive funds.

The insurer, one of the largest investors in the UK stock market, has already invested the bulk of a 15 billion UK direct investment programme focusing on real estate, transport and distribution in cities outside London.

Wilson said L&G could up its investment.

“We’ve spent about 12 billion so far - we could easily spend another 15.”

Wilson said Britain’s vote last year to leave the European Union was having little negative impact on its business, with the subsequent fall in sterling boosting international interest in UK real estate and infrastructure investment.

L&G frequently co-invests with overseas pension funds such as Dutch manager PGGM.

LGIM plans to transfer staff to Dublin as a result of Brexit but Wilson said the numbers would be small.

“We might move four, it might be six, it might be 10, it might be 20, but it’s not that many,” he said.

Rising interest rates would also be positive for the insurer, he added.

The Bank of England lifted interest rates for the first time in more than 10 years on Thursday.

Higher interest rates typically boost insurers’ investment returns and drive demand for annuities, which pay pensioners a fixed income for life.

Legal & General is one of the largest players in UK bulk annuities - taking on the risk of company defined benefit, or final salary, pension schemes.

It has also carried out similar deals in the United States, Netherlands and Ireland, Wilson said.

“We’ve done a few deals, there is more to do.”

L&G is also interested in buying books of annuities that are closed to new customers, after acquiring a 3 billion pound UK closed annuity portfolio last year from Dutch insurer Aegon .

Prudential and Standard Life Aberdeen have indicated their closed annuity books may be up for grabs, which could total around 50 billion pounds.

There were also other such opportunities, Wilson said.

“Prudential’s are not the only back book. There is 140 billion (pounds) of this stuff in the UK.” ($1 = 0.7617 pounds) (Additional reporting by Simon Jessop; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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