Upstart insurer Singapore Life plans expansion after $2 billion Aviva deal

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore Life, an upstart insurer which agreed a $2 billion deal for the Singapore business of insurer Aviva AV.L, plans to tap into Southeast Asia to expand more and will seek to list in the city-state, its founder and CEO told Reuters.

Singapore Life’s transaction to acquire S$11.8 billion ($8.7 billion) of London-listed Aviva’s Singapore assets will boost its S$800 million in assets and catapult it into one of the leading players in the wealthy city-state.

“Our ambition is to expand beyond just the boundaries of insurance into broader financial services and to do that not only in Singapore but across Southeast Asia,” said Walter de Oude, who set up the company, known as Singlife, in 2017 after heading HSBC’s Singapore insurance business.

With growth driven by its mainly digital platform, Singlife initially targeted private banking customers and high net-worth individuals. In 2018, it snapped up Zurich Life’s Singapore portfolio.

Last year, Aviva’s Singapore business had attracted bids from global insurers.

“Our ambition is ultimately to list in Singapore. As a publicly listed company of the future, that gives ownership of our firm into a much more broad-based community,” de Oude, 47, told Reuters in an interview.

He said it was too early to give a time frame.

Singlife will get access to Aviva’s 1.5 million customers, a big pool of financial advisers and range of new products. Under the deal, private equity firm TPG came in as a new investor and will have a 35% stake in the combined business. Aviva will keep 25% with another 20% going to Japan’s Sumitomo Life Insurance Company.

The transaction, one of the largest in Southeast Asia’s insurance sector, is expected to be completed by January. Standard Chartered Bank and Moelis & Company advised Singlife, while JPMorgan advised Aviva.

“We have hungry investors who are looking to expand the Singlife footprint as we grow in scale,” de Oude said.

In February, Singlife received a licence to operate in the Philippines.

“We will be actively looking for opportunities around the region for further expansion and acquisition,” said de Oude, who was born in South Africa and has lived in Singapore for more than 15 years.

“The market place is going to evolve in a digital landscape. The insurance industry has been behind the banking industry, which is in turn behind the payments industry in its evolution,” de Oude said.

($1 = 1.3619 Singapore dollars)

Reporting by Anshuman Daga; Editing by Robert Birsel