HSBC Holdings Plc agreed to buy AXA Singapore for $575 million in a push to build a global wealth hub in Singapore and fuel its expansion across Southeast Asia amid increasing tension in China.
The acquisition will give HSBC the eighth largest life insurer in Singapore, as well as a leading group health insurance firm, with assets of $474 million, according to a statement.
“This is an important acquisition that demonstrates our ambition to grow our wealth business across Asia,” Chief Executive Officer Noel Quinn said in the statement. “Wealth is one of our highest growth and highest return opportunities, and plays to our strengths as an Asia-centred bank with global reach.”
The London-based bank is in the midst of a pivot to Asia, pouring billions into the region as it exits unprofitable business elsewhere. Expanding in Singapore comes after years of tensions for the bank in Hong Kong, its biggest market, and mainland China. While there has been no major evidence of money flowing out of Hong Kong, many high-net worth individuals in the city have set up contingency plans should they need to move cash out of the city as China tightens its grip.
HSBC has outlined ambitious plans for wealth management, particularly in China, to become the leader in Asia. It plans to hire more than 5,000 new wealth planners to grow its business over the next three to five years, boosting income from stable fee income as low interest rates continue to weigh on the lender.
HSBC’s Chief Financial Officer Ewen Stevenson said in August that the bank was looking into several “smaller opportunities” in wealth acquisitions across Asia. That would include three or four potential deals of about $500 million each, he said.
The acquisition marks a turnaround for the lender, which mostly has been busy letting go of assets in recent years. It agreed to sell retail operations in both France and the U.S. this year as it streamlines its operations outside Asia.
Singapore has been a key beneficiary of outflows from Hong Kong and China with many of the super rich in the region choosing to park their money there as a safe haven. Hong Kong may soon also add a Beijing anti-sanctions law to its constitution, a move that could impose further compliance hurdles on multinationals operating in the Asian financial center.
“We’ve been really public that Singapore is a strategically important scale market for the group,” said Bryce Johns, global chief executive officer of HSBC Life and Insurance Partnerships, in a call from Singapore. “We intend to accelerate our franchise growth here both as a global wealth hub and a wholesale gateway into Asean.”
The combined business would also be the fourth-largest retail health insurer in Singapore, with over 600,000 policies in force, HSBC said.
The deal is subject to regulatory approval and HSBC said it expects it to immediately add to the group’s earnings. The purchase will be funded by existing resources and have a minimal impact on HSBC’s common equity tier 1 ratio.