China's insurance regulator bans Anbang Life for three months

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s Anbang Life Insurance Co was punished by the country’s insurance regulator which on Friday barred the firm from applying to issue new products for three months, the latest move in an industry-wide crackdown.

FILE PHOTO: The headquarters building of Anbang Insurance Group are pictured in Beijing, China, August 25, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

Anbang Life, a key part of Anbang Insurance Group Co [ANBANG.UL], was cited for “disrupting market order” by designing a product that bypassed regulations aimed at curbing growth of short-term, risky universal life insurance products, the China Insurance Regulatory Commission (CIRC) said in an online public notice.

CIRC’s move against Anbang Life comes during a widespread regulatory crackdown on what is seen as the excessive use of universal life products by some insurers, and as China’s central leadership moves to curb risk in the financial system.

A handful of insurance firms, led by Anbang, have issued higher-yielding products to raise funds to acquire stakes in market-listed companies.

Over the last two years, Anbang has taken significant stakes in a handful of listed banks and property firms, including China Minsheng Banking Corp, Agricultural Bank of China Ltd 601288.SS> Gemdale Corp, and China Vanke Co Ltd.

Other insurers have been caught up in the crackdown. In December, CIRC suspended Foresea Life, a unit of financial conglomerate Baoneng Group, from selling universal life products until it addressed problems managing customer accounts and information.

Anbang Life intentionally designed a long-term annuity insurance product as a two-year product, circumventing rules, CIRC said in Friday’s notice.

Materials for another Anbang Life product lacked the signature of the company’s chief actuary, in violation of rules, the notice said.

A spokesman for Anbang Insurance Group, the parent company of Anbang Life, did not immediately comment when contacted by Reuters.

The regulator instructed Anbang to rectify its product development and management.

“(The regulator) is urging insurers, especially life insurers, to focus on long-term value creation business by selling more protection component products and take a more prudent investment strategy,” said Qian Zhu, an insurance analyst at Moody’s.

“It’s beneficial to the industry in the long run, but could cause some growing pains for the industry in the short term.”

Reporting by Matthew Miller and Shu Zhang; Editing by Randy Fabi and Keith Weir