Asian insurer AIA has pushed through a long-awaited leadership change and bolstered its plans to expand in mainland China by naming Ping An Insurance’s Lee Yuan Siong as its new chief executive.
Mr Lee, who was the co-chief executive of the mainland Chinese group, replaces the 64-year-old Ng Keng Hooi at the helm of AIA in an appointment that should draw a line under speculation about who was going to lead Asia’s biggest insurer in the long term.
AIA has faced questions over its top leadership since the resignation of Mark Tucker and the appointment of Mr Ng in early 2017.
“Given his age, there have always been people asking about who will eventually take over,” said Michael Chang, an analyst at CGS-CIMB Securities. “At least this addresses those leadership questions.”
Mr Tucker was credited with turning the company into a powerful regional player with more than $185bn in assets during the years he controlled it. Following his departure to become HSBC’s chairman, many insiders speculated that Mr Ng, who is 64 this year, would not remain in the job for long.
Mr Chang noted that Mr Lee’s experience in China, where AIA intends to grow, will make him a good fit for the company. However he cautioned that the protests in Hong Kong present a challenge for the new leader.
Mr Lee will join AIA after more than a decade at Ping An, a Shenzhen-based insurer that has also grown rapidly over the past decade to become one of the world’s largest insurers.
He started his career at the Monetary Authority of Singapore and also held senior leadership roles at Prudential.
Most of Ping An’s insurance business is focused in mainland China. Mr Lee’s new role will put him in charge of a company operating across 18 markets in Asia. He will also face challenging circumstances in AIA’s home market of Hong Kong, where violent protests that flared up in June have hurt insurers and other financial businesses.
Insurance in Hong Kong is dependent on customers from mainland China, who often travel to the city specifically to buy policies outside of China. But the anti-China protests have stopped many Chinese people from visiting the city in recent months.
For the third quarter of the year, AIA recorded its smallest quarterly growth in new business value, reflecting some of the challenges it faces during the political unrest.
“AIA and Pru are both facing headwinds this year due to the protests,” Mr Chang said. “The fourth quarter could be worse.”
The company’s Hong Kong-listed stock closed the week at HK$77.3 before the leadership announcement. Despite the challenges it faces, AIA’s share price has risen about 19 per cent since the start of the year.
Ping An Insurance said on Friday that it will appoint its current chief information officer Lu Min as chief insurance business officer.