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Standard Life joins `red chip' in HK venture

STANDARD LIFE, the Edinburgh-based mutual life insurer, is preparing to move into the Hong Kong life and pensions market through a joint venture with China Everbright, one of China's leading companies .

The group, which earlier this year rejected a takeover approach from Lloyds TSB, is aggressively seeking to expand overseas. Lloyds went on to strike an agreed pounds 6.7bn takeover of Standard Life's Edinburgh rival, Scottish Widows, in May.

The group has been talking to a number of possible acquisition targets in Spain, where it already has a small operation, and is also looking to expand in Germany. It recently received legislative approval for a joint venture in India.

Standard Life will be the majority shareholder in the new Hong Kong operation - to be called Standard Life (Asia) - with 51 per cent. HIH, Australia's biggest general insurer, will take a 29 per cent stake, with the remainder being held by Everbright.

Standard Life recently opened offices in Peking and Shanghai in an attempt to break into the mainland Chinese life insurance market. It clearly hopes that the relationship with Everbright, which has its own banking and insurance operations, will help it fulfil ambitions there.

Scott Bell, Standard Life's group managing director, was in Hong Kong last week to sign the joint venture agreement with Lui MingKang, chairman of China Everbright, and HIH managing director Geoffrey Cohen.

Mr Bell said yesterday: "The creation of Standard Life (Asia) is further evidence of our commitment to developing our business internationally. Hong Kong represents a very attractive opportunity and one which offers potential for profitable growth."

Robin Knight, the chief executive of the new operation, added that it was Standard Life's goal to become one of Hong Kong's premier life insurance companies. The operation will start life with HK$150m (pounds 12m) of capital, but all parties intend to add to that in due course.

China Everbright is one of the leading "red chip" companies - Hong Kong stock market-quoted vehicles for companies with extensive mainland operations and close ties with the ruling Chinese elite.

Standard Life said that in the year to 15 November, new business had exceeded pounds 4bn for the first time and reached double its level four years ago.