China is committed to opening up its insurance sector just as it’s indicated, but it will be on its own time, said Mike Wells, Prudential Group CEO on Tuesday.
“Beijing is saying they have a plan for greater opening, and I think like everything in China the time frame is misaligned with U.S. time frames,” Wells told CNBC at the Singapore FinTech Festival.
“You’re not going to succeed across Asia if you’re not successful in China,” Wells said.
Prudential, Britain’s largest insurer, has been expanding into China for years. Prudential has a 50-50 joint venture with Chinese conglomerate Citic.
“We have licenses in about 70 percent of the economic footprint now with China, so our biggest challenge is growing into that footprint quickly,” Wells said.
China said this year it would accelerate a plan to lift the foreign ownership restriction in life insurance companies to 51 percent and eventually fully scrap the restriction.
“I think China’s not looking for a flood of foreign models, insurers and management teams in the market but they are saying ‘We want the expertise, the products, the capabilities,'” he said.
Since August, there have been media reports that China’s most valuable insurer Ping An Insurance Group is looking to buy Prudential’s Asian business.
Last month, Prudential’s Asia chief executive, Nic Nicandrou, said the insurer had not received any offer for the regional business.
Asked about the Ping An deal, Wells said he was unable to comment on mergers and acquisitions, but that Prudential now has its hands full spinning off its U.K. business.
“It’s not off the table but … our days are pretty full right now,” Wells said.