China Regulator Tightens Rules on Life Insurance Products

China's insurance regulator is tightening its control over short and mid-term life insurance products, in a bid to curb potential risks from aggressive insurers investing heavily in stocks and long-term assets using short-term funds.

The China Insurance Regulatory Commission ("CIRC") is reducing the industry total premiums from such products to between 500 billion yuan and 550 billion yuan a year, from 650 billion yuan in 2015, said Yuan Xucheng, director of its life insurance supervision department.

The lower level would account for less than 20 percent of total premiums for China's life insurance industry, Yuan said, a reduction from 27 percent in 2015. At present, 57 life insurance companies selling such products, he added.

"Insurance company profits should come from active risk control, not aggressive investment," Yuan told a press conference.

The new rules, effective from Monday, 21 March, follow a buying spree by Chinese insurers in equities and real estate after CIRC loosened restrictions on insurance investment in 2014. In recent months, Chinese insurers have been active in both overseas and domestic markets.

Yuan said that rapid growth of short- and mid-term insurance products has caused concern about risk created by a potential asset-liability mismatch and liquidity conditions.

Short and mid-term life insurance refers to products where more than 60 percent of total policies issued are expected to have less than five years effective duration, according to the new regulation.

Some insurance companies have been too aggressive selling these policies, Yuan said, with some firms seeing more than 90 percent of total premium coming from such products. He declined to name the insurers.

"Insurance companies shouldn't sell quasi-wealth management products purely for investment purposes," said Yuan. "That's not insurance," he added.

Under the new rules, China's life insurance companies need to immediately stop selling products in which more than 60 percent of policies are expected to have less than a year duration, and gradually cut back other short- and mid-term products.

Each firm will be assigned a ceiling, depending on its capital. Those whose premiums from such products exceed the ceiling must increase capital within three months to meet the requirement, according to the new rules.

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Shu Zhang is a correspondent at Reuters in Beijing.