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AIA to open new China sales centers as early as June

AIA Group Ltd.'s newly approved China sales centers are expected to open for business as soon as June, President and CEO Ng Keng Hooi said at a March 15 press conference in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong-headquartered life insurer on Feb. 1 received regulatory approval to begin work on setting up sales and services centers in the cities of Tianjin and Hebei province's Shijiazhuang from the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission. Ng said AIA is looking to take between four to six months to prepare to set up the new locations.

The establishment of sales and service centers in the two Chinese cities will be AIA's first expansion within China since 2002.

AIA is recognized as an offshore insurer in China, and is the only foreign-owned insurance company that wholly owns its China operations. However, its presence is currently limited to the cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, and Guangdong and Jiangsu provinces.

"These two cities [of Tianjin and Shijiazhuang] are very close to our Beijing business," Ng said, noting AIA will be able to hire from Beijing to staff the operations in these cities. He added that recruitment in Tianjin and Shijiazhuang have been going well. "For every 50 positions that we advertised, we received 1,500 applications. We also have a lot of applications from people who want to be agents as well."

Ng said the new locations will operate in the same way as AIA's other branches in the country. "We want to replicate the same success that we have seen at all of [our China] branches," he said.

A company source who declined to be named said the Tianjin and Shijiazhuang sales and service centers will be established under the license of AIA's Beijing branch, in line with the Chinese government's push to integrate the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area. The expansion is not part of China's commitment to further open up the life insurance market to foreign players, the source added.

The insurer on March 15 reported a year-over-year decline in net profit for the 12 months to Dec. 31, 2018, to US$2.60 billion, from US$6.50 billion in the year-ago period.