Insurers put under higher supervision


Administrators at State-owned insurance companies have been brought under higher-level supervision.

Analysts think that change will lead to the establishment of a regulatory body charged with managing the country's 150 trillion yuan ($23.7 trillion) in financial assets.

The heads of China's four leading insurers - China Life Insurance Co Ltd, People's Insurance Company of China Ltd, China Taiping Insurance Group Co Ltd and China Export and Credit Insurance Corp - have been promoted to the vice-ministerial level, from their previous positions at the bureau level, according to a source at China Life who declined to be named.

The promotion has put the insurers at the same administrative level as State-owned banks. As a result, their personnel appointments will be supervised by the Organization Department of the Communist Party of China Central Committee instead of the China Insurance Regulatory Commission.

Yang Mingsheng, former vice-president of the regulatory commission, was appointed chairman of China Life, and Yuan Li, former chairman of China Life, will be named vice-president of China Development Bank, the source said, adding that more details will be made public soon.

Analysts said the reforms and personnel changes pave the way for the establishment of a regulator of State-owned financial assets. The resultant organization is likely to be similar to the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, which oversees China's State-owned enterprises.

"That is one of the possibilities," the source said.

Data from the People's Bank of China showed that the country's financial institutions had 105.7 trillion yuan in assets by September 2011 and held $3.2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves.

Taking into account the 2.2 trillion yuan in assets held by the 106 securities companies in China, the 4.9 trillion yuan held by the insurance industry, and other financial assets, the value of State-owned and State-controlled financial assets is greater than 150 trillion yuan.

The biggest assets are now under the supervision of various organizations such as the country's Ministry of Finance, the central bank and the China Banking Regulatory Commission.

Finance Minister Xie Xuren said in a press conference earlier this month that the State Council is looking at establishing a "State-owned financial assets supervision and administration commission".

Li Shuguang, a professor with the China University of Political Science and Law, said the obstacles to reforming the financial industry are the same as those that stood before efforts to reform State-owned enterprises: a lack of "ultimate owners" that would manage both earnings and liabilities.

"Establishing a financial assets regulator will be an important step in reforming the financial industry, because it will end the confusion caused by having various supervisors, and differentiate an ultimate investor for these assets," Li said.

Ma Hongman, a financial commentator, said such a regulatory body is likely to find it difficult to have its orders obeyed by the financial giants, just as the State-owned assets commission has not found it easy to persuade State-owned enterprises to exit the property market.

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