HSBC Venture Ends Use of China Contract Sales Force

HSBC Holdings Plc, Europe’s largest bank by market value, eliminated the use of contract sales staff at its life insurance joint venture in China, sparking a protest at its office.

A number of the employees at HSBC Life Insurance Co., in which the lender owns 50 percent, were offered “alternative arrangements” with Allianz SE, HSBC said in an emailed statement today. Other affected workers were offered redeployment, according to the statement.

The company, which continues to offer life insurance in China, also distributes life products by Allianz in the country.

More than 100 protesters, dressed in business attire, gathered at HSBC China’s headquarters in Shanghai, demanding compensation and a meeting with bank executives.

HSBC Chief Executive Officer Stuart Gulliver has closed or sold 47 businesses from the time he took the top job in 2011 through March 4, the bank said in a statement that day, as he focuses on markets where the company is most profitable. In February, the lender sold its stake in Ping An Insurance (Group) Co., China’s second-largest insurer, for $9.4 billion.

HSBC’s China insurance venture, set up in June 2009 in Shanghai with Beijing-based National Trust Ltd., lost 146.3 million yuan ($23.6 million) in 2011, 20 percent deeper than the previous year’s loss, according to the latest annual report posted on its website. Its premium income rose 40 percent in January to 27.5 million yuan from a year earlier, slowing from a 78 percent jump in all of 2012, according to data from the China Insurance Regulatory Commission.

HSBC said about a year ago it will sell general insurance units in Asia and Latin America for about $914 million.

Axa SA agreed to pay about $494 million to acquire HSBC’s general insurance business in Hong Kong, Singapore and Mexico, the London-based bank said in a March 7 statement last year. QBE Insurance Group Ltd. agreed to pay about $420 million for the business in Argentina and the general insurance unit of HSBC unit Hang Seng Bank Ltd.

— With assistance by Jun Luo

(Corrects to show sales force wasn’t fired and was offered alternative employment in first and second paragraphs.)
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