* Ping An to fully invest the fund in the next 3-4 years
* The fund to focus on early-stage investments
* Fund to be led by Jonathan Larsen, ex-Citigroup
* Larsen joins Ping An as its chief innovation officer
By Julie Zhu
HONG KONG, May 4 (Reuters) - Ping An Insurance Group Co of China Ltd, the country’s largest insurer by market value, is launching its first overseas fund to primarily invest in financial and healthcare technology worldwide, underscoring its push beyond its home market.
The initial size of the so-called Ping An Global Voyager Fund will be $1 billion, the insurer said in a statement on Thursday. It will be managed from Hong Kong and led by Jonathan Larsen, an 18-year stalwart of Citigroup who joined Ping An as its chief innovation officer.
Ping An’s overseas ambitions mirror those of other Chinese firms, including Anbang Insurance Group and Fosun International Ltd, which are spending billions on overseas acquisitions in a bid to reduce their dependence on the slowing Chinese economy and weakening yuan currency.
The Shenzhen-based financial group plans to fully invest the Global Voyager Fund in the next three to four years with a focus on early-stage start-ups.
Ping An in recent years has been building up its expertise in the fintech and healthcare-related areas, but mostly in mainland China.
Its main subsidiary Lufax, China’s biggest peer-to-peer lending and wealth management platform, is also looking to expand into Hong Kong or Singapore, Lufax’s chief executive officer Gregory Gibb told Reuters in an interview.
Valued at $18.5 billion when it raised $1.2 billion from a group of investors in January 2016, it is looking to list in Hong Kong to secure more funds to finance its expansion at home and abroad.
Ping An Good Doctor, a medical service app backed by the insurer, raised about $500 million in its maiden financing round last year, valuing the fast-growing start-up at $3 billion.
Ping An had about 5 percent of its total insurance assets abroad as of December 2016, its chief financial officer, Jason Yao, told Reuters at the time.
That was well below the 15 percent cap imposed by China’s insurance regulator, giving it ample room to splurge. It plans to gradually increase its overseas investments to 10 percent over the next three to five years.
Before the Global Voyager Fund comes on the scene, the insurer has venture capital firm Ping An Ventures to make early-stage investments mostly in China.
Ping An’s overseas push also comes as the country’s insurance regulator was considering relaxing rules to boost the biggest and most solvent firms’ expansion abroad, while smaller, riskier insurers would come under tighter scrutiny, Reuters reported in March.
Last year Ping An made its biggest annual profit in more than a decade thanks to growth in its life insurance business. (Reporting by Julie Zhu; Editing by Stephen Coates)