New York Life preps product line for Hong Kong

The mutual insurer will expand its agency sales force as well.
New York Life Insurance Worldwide, the Hong Kong subsidiary of the largest mutual insurer in the US, is to launch a raft of new products over the next 12 months in an attempt to capture a larger share of the growing market in the region.

New York LifeÆs Hong Kong CFO, Steve Miles, says he expects at least six new products to be rolled out, beginning in the second quarter of the year.

Initially, the insurer is planning to launch new terms for its existing Goalset and FlexiSavings products, which featuring an endowment after 20 years and higher dividends respectively. It then has plans to launch a new Universal Life Plan, operating like a bank account with declared interest rates, and a new Senior Care Plan aimed at simplifying existing arrangements.

Miles also says the insurer will launch a lifetime annuity plan for the first time in the region. ôIn the markets where annuities are strong, like in the US, UK or Australia, there is usually some kind of tax driver,ö he notes. ôIn Hong Kong we obviously donÆt have that, but what we do have is a general lack of government benefits, and a population that is becoming increasingly aware of the threat of living too long and not having saved enough.ö

Annuity payments would initially begin 10 years after payments commenced, although Miles says more flexibility will be introduced as customers begin to feel more comfortable with how the product works. Further details of the other products will be announced at the time of launch.

The insurer also affirms its commitment to the agency model of distribution, announcing that it is to raise the number of agents selling its products from 950 now to 1,200 by the end of the year.

Regional president and CEO Jeff Walker says that despite the growing involvement of banks in the distribution of insurance products, he is determined to stick to the insurerÆs traditional agency model. ôI hear many of our competitors talking about the need for scale to bring costs down,ö he says. ôI agree with that, but for us it is all about scale and quality û and weÆre only going to maintain the quality of our products and services by maintaining a highly trained team of professionals.ö

Last year the firm saw profits from Hong Kong surge 230% while its agency workforce grew by 15% in the second half of 2005, compared to an industry average of just 6.5%. The insurer currently earns about a quarter of its annual US$1 billion-worth of global revenues from the region, and according to Walker that proportion is continuing to grow.

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