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Overview: Finding innovation in an increasingly saturated Chinese insurance market

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The last decade in Chinese insurance has been characterised by mass market offerings and the proliferation of internet insurance models. Now, in the aftermath of Covid-19 and the introduction of new regulations, the era of quality over quantity has begun. In light of this, we consider how Chinese insurance businesses are finding ways to innovate and grow in an increasingly saturated market.

1. Wutongshu

Wutongshu is a classic example of a legacy broker that has reimagined its role in the current climate of regulatory restrictions.

Wutongshu is pioneering a new agent management technique that re-positions agents away from a pyramid management style towards a flat hierarchy, whereby hundreds of agents report to a single manager, as opposed to the layers of reporting lines that have hitherto dominated the distribution of life and health insurance in China.

Other national brokers such as Fenhua, Datong, Mingya and Huize are following suit, with thousands of full-time agents now assuming new organisational functions.

Additionally, new regulatory guidance has also benefited legacy brokers as insurance distributors must now possess brick and mortar offices in each province they operate. For existing brokers with established offline outlets, this has proven to be a significant boon.

Although many analysts view China as a homogenous market, the reality is many brokers have regional footprints across Chinese provinces. For example, Huize has a presence in the Southern region, Shanghai is the main revenue source for Nanyantech, Beijing is served by Woniubao and Xiaobang, while the central provinces of Hubei and Hunan are served by Wutongshu.

2. Woniubao

Woniubao specialises in providing coverage for high-risk workers in the hinterland provinces of Hubei, Hunan, and Hebei – provinces still under the influence of large-scale construction projects.

These high-risk workers, so called Category 5 and 6 workers, are deemed too risky for most insurers, however Woniubao has brought additional safety training to bear in addition to the issuance of short-term policies. This allows Woniubao to monitor claims on an ongoing basis, thus enabling it to increase premium if the loss ratio becomes unacceptable.

Ironically, although disability insurance is a prerequisite for construction companies and workers, the regulatory approval to insure construction workers is hard to obtain. This has created a paradox, whereby risk-tolerant insurers must grapple with onerous regulations in order to insure China construction workers.

3. WeSure

WeSure (see this month’s InsurTech analysis here for more) has undergone a significant pivot since it first emerged in 2018. Initially, WeSure sought to compete with online brokers selling life and health insurance. Its term life and critical illness products were initially backed by Met Life and Axa.


However, since the realisation that only 6% of the Chinese population has bought a ‘commercial insurance’ product – thereby increasing the public healthcare burden on a government facing an ageing population – the Chinese insurance regulator has instructed Tencent to focus entirely on the distribution of the government backed Huiminbao program. Huiminbao is unique in its absence of exclusions and age limits.

4. Intellisures

 As noted, China’s ageing population poses a significant challenge to government pension, insurance, and social security finances. Indeed the battle to care for the influx of retirees in China has delivered dozens of startups to its cause. One of these is Intellisures, a Shanghai based InsurTech, which has developed a proposition for China’s elderly. Designed as a membership program, the Intellisures programme allows seniors to attend hospital as outpatients as many times as needed. Additionally, the Intellisures programme includes a surgery cash insurance component to cover seniors in the event they need surgery. It’s worth noting that the marriage of affordable outpatient care to a high limit surgery cash insurance product has become a model that may be applied across Asia.

The key to Intellisures approach is its ability to negotiate discounted rates for outpatient healthcare. This allows it to serve a market segment, the elderly, traditionally shunned by insurance companies. Nevertheless, Intellisures has demonstrated some creative product development, with its true test remaining whether it has the ability to scale its distribution channels.

5. High-end medical insurance

Traditionally, high-end medical insurance has been distributed solely through agents and brokers. Although the target market remains expats and Chinese nationals with an interest in private healthcare, several insurers have recently started introducing high-end medical products online with a monthly premium. This particular initiative will be interesting for western insurers as high-end medical insurance represents a significant share of western insurer’s business in China.


The InsurTech landscape in China is currently in a transitional phase, although many of the fundamental shifts in consumer behaviour are still in place – principally the view that life and health insurance is a protection instead of investment. Going forward, only those who can find both product differentiation and a scalable distribution channels will be able to compete.


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