Softbank boosts Zhong An's insurtech, fintech ambitions

The Japanese conglomerate's Vision Fund will help the tech-minded Chinese insurer expand across Asia and, eventually, the world.

Chinese insurance firm Zhong An will partner with tycoon Masayoshi Son's Softbank Vision Fund in a venture intended to take the online insurer's technology international, with a focus on Asia.

Terms of the deal, announced on Monday, were not disclosed, but it will see Softbank become a strategic investor in a new entity established by Zhong An's ZhongAn International subsidiary. 

Softbank and Zhong An said the deal would take Zhong An's cutting-edge insurtech and fintech solutions into other Asian markets and, ultimately, around the world. It reflects massive disruption in the insurance industry as online upstarts harness technology while established platforms up their digital game and seek new partnerships.

"I am confident that utilising Zhong An’s existing technology and know-how alongside SoftBank’s international networks will ensure it is well positioned to capitalise on the tremendous growth potential in both Fintech and Insuretech across Asia," said Kentaro Matsui, managing director at Softbank Investment Advisers.

"Since inception, Zhong An International has focused on building technology capacity and fostering platform cooperation to support overseas business development," said Wayne Xu, general manager in charge of international business at Zhong An. "Going forward, we hope the Asian markets will act as a bridgehead in expanding our business globally and SoftBank is the ideal partner." 

Founded in 2013, Zhong An enjoyed early backing from the likes of Tencent, Ant Financial, fellow insurer Ping An and Ctrip. It hit unicorn status ahead of its $1.5 billion Hong Kong IPO in September last year. Its international subsidiary, ZhongAn International, was founded in December.

Softbank's most recent flirtation with the insurance industry came to an end in May, when it and reinsurance giant Swiss Re called off talks over a possible investment. The Japanese group was famously an early investor in Alibaba, but has found its Vision Fund strategy called into question.

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