German insurer ends Japan initiative

HDI Group''s life insurance company Aspecta commits seppuku.

The damage to the insurance world by the September 11 terrorist attacks continues to make waves, with the latest victim being life insurer Aspecta's Japan initiative, which closed operations on January 31.

Aspecta is the life arm of HDI Group (short for Haftplichtverband der Deutschne Industrie), the third-largest insurer in Germany and the parent of Hanover Re, the world's fifth-largest reinsurer. Strong in Germany and Austria, and with a presence in other European markets, Aspecta had made Japan its first foray into the Asia-Pacific region, and had hired Patrick Kawasjee as its chief executive. Kawasjee had previously run Citigroup Asset Management's Japanese retail business.

Kawasjee's strategy had been to focus Aspecta's Japan business on the emerging variable annuity market, which is less than three years old but expected by many industry players to rapidly grow now that restrictions on distribution and other areas have been liberalized.

The firm was due to receive its insurance license from the Financial Services Agency last month, and scheduled to begin distribution via multiple banking and securities channels as of January.

In a letter informing peers of the closure, Kawasjee says, "Aspecta has decided to close its operation in Japan strictly from business and managerial reasons of its parent and holding company. The negative global conditions, compounded by the effects of post September 11th terrorism, have brought forth unforeseen pressures on our home turf, especially on the insurance industry in Germany and in the European continent."

Expressing his disappointment at leaving an "unfinished project", Kawasjee has relocated to New Zealand.