Manulife Targets Middle Class in Myanmar After 70-Year Hiatus

May 26, 2014 8:47 am ET

May 26 (Bloomberg) -- Manulife Financial Corp., Canada’s largest life insurer, is entering Myanmar for the first time since the outbreak of World War II as it targets the region’s expanding middle class.

The company, which operates in 11 Asian markets including Thailand and Shanghai, opened a representative office in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city. The firm plans to sell life insurance products to the country of 65 million people. Manulife entered Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, in 1903 and left the country in 1942, a casualty of the war.

“We’re convinced Myanmar is on the threshold of a great opportunity,” Indren Naidoo, Manulife’s executive for the region that includes Myanmar, said in an e-mail. “Myanmar has a real opportunity here in terms of catching up with the kind of growth and development we’ve seen in other parts of this region.”

Manulife joins international life insurers including MetLife Inc. in a country where the government’s structural reform program has propelled growth. The country’s middle-income earners are set to double by 2020, according to the Boston Consulting Group, leaving more disposable income for residents to buy insurance products.

The country is forecast to reach one of the highest growth rates in Asia, with a GDP gain of 7.8 percent this year and next, according to the Asian Development Bank. China’s growth rate is expected to slow to 7.3 percent this year, according to an average of economist estimates compiled by Bloomberg News.

Myanmar’s government has been shaping a more investment- friendly country by unifying the exchange rate, creating autonomy for the central bank, reforming tax policy, pumping funds into social and physical infrastructure, and developing the financial sector after five decades of isolation and military rule.

Toronto-based Manulife, which manages C$635 billion ($584 billion), is awaiting an operational license from the local government to begin selling products. If granted, Manulife would be the first foreign life insurer with the designation.