Monday 6 March 2017 6:23 am

Chinese insurance regulators plan to relax rules, giving larger firms the green light to restart overseas investment

Chinese insurance watchdogs are planning a regulatory shake-up that will reboot larger firms’ ability to expand overseas.

Discussions are being held over changing the China Insurance Regulatory Commission (CIRC) from a single body to a tailored framework that takes into account a number of facets of insurers including size, solvency ratios and risk tolerance, sources told Reuters overnight.

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China is the second largest insurance market in the world and the many firms have looked overseas to expand operations over the last two years – M&A activity has been doubling annually with $11bn (£9bn) of transactions announced last year.

But over the last six months in particular, government sign-off for outbound investment has been less forthcoming leading to deal activity grinding to a halt.

The CIRC plans are part of a wider initiative to clean China’s insurance sector. It is thought the rapid expansion of smaller players is causing particular concern to regulators, and specifically identifying the source of cash used to fund overseas transactions is a cause for concern.

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Larger and more solvent firms, such as China Life and Ping An, will be given more leeway under the proposals to expand abroad whereas the scrutiny on smaller companies will be ramped up.

Chinese insurance firms are allowed to invest up to 15 per cent of their assets overseas and the new framework will seek to taper this, with smaller firms restricted to single-digit percentage investments, sources said.

A timeline for the implementation of the plans has yet to be finalised.