Bank of East Asia to sell insurance arm following portfolio review


  • Banking
  • Thursday, 24 Sep 2020

Bank of East Asia Ltd (BEA) said in March that it had agreed to carry out the review, pausing four-year-old legal proceedings brought by activist investor Elliott Management demanding change at the lender.

HONG KONG: Bank of East Asia Ltd (BEA), which counts Guoco Company Management Ltd as a substantial shareholder, has decided to initiate a sale of its insurance business and is seeking a strategic partner for its mainland China business following a review of its portfolios and assets.

The Hong Kong-based bank said in March that it had agreed to carry out the review, pausing four-year-old legal proceedings brought by activist investor Elliott Management demanding change at the lender.

BEA, whose main markets are Hong Kong and mainland China, said in a statement yesterday that Elliott supported the move.

Shares in BEA rose as much as 4.7% to HK$16.40 after the announcement, recovering from two consecutive sessions of falls. They have lost about 20% over the last 12 months.

BEA has survived as an independent lender in a Hong Kong market dominated by major players HSBC, BOC Hong Kong and Standard Chartered, while several of the territory’s other family-owned firms have been put up for sale amid deteriorating business conditions.

Having hired Goldman Sachs to assist with the review, BEA said it would seek to enter into a long-term exclusive distribution agreement with the buyer of BEA Life. The agreement would be a new source of revenue for the bank, it said.

BEA Life is a wholly owned subsidiary of the bank in Hong Kong, and it reported gross written premiums of HK$4.8bil (US$620mil) in 2019, the lender said in a filing to the Hong Kong stock exchange.

In addition, BEA will look “to grow its core businesses, including through strategic and synergistic partnerships with, but not limited to, our mainland China banking business, ” the filing said. Elliott, which owns 7.5% of BEA according to data from Refinitiv’s Eikon, had previously urged the bank to explore putting itself up for sale in an open letter to shareholders, saying that it was poorly run.

“The sale of BEA Life will be a good first step and we look forward to continuing our engagement while the company follows through on this and the other important conclusions of the review, ” Jonathan Pollock, co-CEO and chief investment officer at Elliott Management Corp, said in a BEA news release.

In 2016, Dah Sing Financial, another local Hong Kong bank, sold its life insurance business for US$1.4bil, the financial hub’s most expensive insurance merger and acquisition, during a surge in outbound deals by deep-pocketed Chinese investors. — Reuters

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