Jack Ma-backed Yunfeng leads $1.7 billion purchase of MassMutual Asia unit

HONG KONG/SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Yunfeng Financial Group 0376.HK said it would be the main investor in a $1.7 billion acquisition of insurer MassMutual International's Hong Kong unit - a deal that sent shares in the Jack Ma-backed finance firm soaring as much as 30 percent.

FILE PHOTO - Alibaba Group founder and chairman Jack Ma arrives to attend a meeting with the French President at the Elysee Palace in Paris March 18, 2015 . REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo

The cash and stock deal will add insurance products to the Yunfeng’s existing fintech-focused financial services, in what the company called a milestone in its ambitions to become a financial conglomerate.

Yunfeng will own 60 percent of MassMutual Asia. The rest will be owned by other investors such as Ant Financial Services, an affiliate of billionaire Jack Ma's Alibaba BABA.N, as well as Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC Private Ltd and Chinese Internet and telecoms firm SINA Corp SINA.O.

The deal will see MassMutual, Yunfeng and Ant enter into a strategic cooperation agreement to explore future business opportunities. Ant has also been expanding rapidly, delving into a range of businesses from wealth management to micro lending.

GIC said in a statement that the prospect of collaboration between the three firms could create “significant value” and that it saw consistent growth for MassMutual Asia in Hong Kong’s life insurance industry.

Yunfeng will pay the U.S. insurer $1 billion in cash and 800 million shares valued at HK$6.50 apiece. MassMutual will have a 24.8 percent stake in Yunfeng’s enlarged share capital.

Shares in Yunfeng ended 5.4 percent higher, giving it a market value of HK$16.1 billion ($2.1 billion). Earlier it had surged as much as 30 percent.

MassMutual Asia has two main units - one manages its general insurance business, while the other focuses on the Mandatory Provident Fund business, a compulsory pension plan for the retirement of residents in Hong Kong.

MassMutual International said its business in Japan and a joint venture in China were not part of the transaction, and that Yunfeng had indicated it will move forward with MassMutual Asia’s employees and management team intact.

MassMutual Asia employs some 3,000 professional consultants, according to its website.

Recently, there has been a spate of M&A deals in the Asian insurance sector. In July, British insurer Aviva AV.L agreed to sell its Asia and Middle East-focused Friends Provident International business for 340 million pounds as part of its plan to leave less profitable markets.

Reorient Financial Markets, a wholly owned unit of Yunfeng and JPMorgan acted as Yunfeng’s financial advisors on the deal, while Citigroup advised MassMutual International.

($1 = 7.8235 Hong Kong dollars)

Reporting by Sumeet Chatterjee in HONG KONG and Anshuman Daga in SINGAPORE; Additional reporting by Aparajita Saxena in Bengaluru; Editing by Edwina Gibbs