FWD, the Asian insurer founded by the son of Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing, has filed for a US initial public offering in what would be one of the year’s biggest listings.
The company launched by Richard Li in 2013 said on Thursday that it had confidentially submitted filings for the IPO to the US Securities and Exchange Commission. That allows it to submit documents to the SEC before filing a prospectus publicly.
FWD said the number of American depositary shares to be offered and the price range for the IPO had not yet been determined and the timing of the listing was subject to regulatory approval. But the company could seek $2-3bn from the share sale, according to people familiar with the situation.
FWD has expanded aggressively across Asia, rapidly rolling out a network across 10 countries including Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia.
The insurer has almost 10m customers, more than $63bn in assets and about 6,100 employees as well as 33,000 agents.
Richard Harris, a fund manager at Hong Kong-based Port Shelter Investment Management, said FWD “has made enormous gains [in market share] because it’s got a lot of firepower behind it”.
As with Li Ka-shing’s Cheung Kong conglomerate, FWD “takes a strategic view on industries and invests very heavily in them”, Harris said.
He added that it was “interesting” that the insurer had chosen to list in New York over Hong Kong, but US investors “will be interested [in FWD] and there does seem to be a slight thawing with the view towards Chinese companies — and this will be recognised in New York as a Chinese company”.
Li started FWD with the $1.2bn acquisition of ING’s pension and insurance businesses in Thailand, Hong Kong and Macau. The expansion strategy of Huynh Thanh Phong, FWD’s chief executive, has focused on pairing moves into new Asian markets with the use of technology to reduce the paperwork and complexity common to the industry in the region.
The group has swallowed up competitors as rival financial groups have retreated from the region, including MetLife’s Hong Kong business and the insurance business of Thailand’s Siam Commercial bank, the industry’s largest-ever takeover in south-east Asia.
“[SCB was] the prize asset that everybody wanted to go after,” Phong told the Financial Times in an interview this year. FWD eventually acquired SCB for about Bt93bn ($3bn) in 2019, giving it a 36 per cent market share in Thailand in bancassurance terms, bigger than the next three groups combined.