China will lift foreign ownership restrictions in the life insurance sector in three years and raise foreign ownership limits to 51 percent in joint-venture life insurance firms by the end of June, a top regulatory official said.
Speaking at a panel discussion during the Boao Forum for Asia on Wednesday, Yi Gang, the governor of the People's Bank of China, the central bank, said the new measures will form part of the broader package of policies that will further open up the country's financial sector.
Industry insiders said the new measures will instill market vitality and create new development opportunities.
By June 30 this year, most of the measures will be in place, Yi said, the first time that China has provided a clear timeline on its financial market opening-up plans since the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China last October.
Wang Guojun, an insurance professor at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, said the new measures are well within expectations.
"The change in the foreign ownership ceiling in a joint venture life insurer from the previous 50 percent to 51 percent is very important and can help reduce internal rivalries," said Wang.
Chen Liang, CEO of Allianz China Life, welcomed the latest round of opening-up measures.
"The central government's latest efforts will benefit the whole insurance industry. A more open and fully-competitive market will not only bring new development opportunities for Allianz and other foreign insurers, but also bring lots of benefits for Chinese customers," said Chen.
Being the first European insurer entering the Chinese market, Allianz has been operating in the country for 19 years and has developed a full line of businesses including life insurance, property and casualty insurance and asset management.
"We believe we can play a bigger role in better serving Chinese customers, especially in the fields of pension business and health insurance sectors," Chen added. "And we are looking forward to more supportive regulatory policies that encourage product innovation."
Statistics from the banking and insurance regulator showed that foreign life insurers' market share in China stood at around 5.8 percent by the end of last year. But their market share in the country's metropolitan cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou has been close to 20 percent.
Besides, qualified foreign investors are also allowed to run insurance agencies and survey and loss adjustment businesses in China. Foreign brokers will also enjoy the same business scope like their Chinese counterparts.
Shen Kaitao, chairman of Jiang Tai Insurance Brokers Co Ltd, one of the country's largest insurance brokers, said such measures will help to improve the efficiency of the whole industry with more competition in the market.
"With years of development, Chinese insurance brokers have gained rich experience in dealing with SMEs and individuals. So, the latest efforts in opening up are not likely to deal a blow to domestic players," said Shen.