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Wayne Xu Wei, president of ZhongAn Technologies International, has high hopes on Hong Kong playing a key connector role in the company"s overseas expansion program. [PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY]

Mainland tech titan ZhongAn is banking on Hong Kong as the bridgehead to build its "go global" vision. Group executive Wayne Xu tells Luo Weiteng the company"s expertise and know-how would be given full play in a wider world.

A "man of curiosity". That"s how Wayne Xu Wei, president of ZhongAn Technologies International Group, likes to describe himself.

And, he"s not far off the mark. It was indeed Xu"s curiosity for knowledge and success that prompted him to set off on his US expedition more than a decade ago.

Next came watching his career take off with California-based Google and, after eight years at the technology behemoth as its product manager, Xu packed his bags again, moving back to the Chinese mainland to join ZhongAn Online P&C Insurance Co in 2014 as chief operating officer.

He hit the road one more time recently, heading south to Hong Kong to take the helm at the insurer"s newly-launched offshore unit.

To bolster its "go global" vision, the Shanghai-based company teamed up with Hong Kong-listed Sinolink Worldwide Holdings in December last year to set up a Hong Kong-headquartered arm — ZhongAn Technologies International Group.

The new joint venture emerged right after the country"s first and largest online-only insurer came under the global spotlight with its $1.5-billion Hong Kong listing in September last year that was more than 391 times oversubscribed.

The stellar market debut essentially set the stage for the flotations of a cluster of "new economy" companies, including Tencent-backed Chinese Literature and Yixin Group, as well as Li Ka-shing-backed Razer to follow suit.

The initial public offering spree rekindled local investors" love for tech stocks and served as a big push for the Asian financial center, whose stock market has long been dominated by financial services-related groups.

Commonly known as ZhongAn International, the new joint venture is an offshore affiliate for ZhongAn Information Technology Services Co. Ltd (ZhongAn Technology) — the company"s technology unit founded in 2016 as part of a package of measures to export the technological expertise.

"To be sure, Hong Kong is the land of promise for ZhongAn Online P&C Insurance Co. It"s also a bridgehead for our overseas expansion and business opening-up," Xu tells China Daily.

"Finance and technology are the twin pillars of our growth. In Hong Kong, part of our business will focus on the license-based traditional financial business, while the other segment will revolve around technology exportation."

Technology exportation itself, he points out, is in line with the greater wow factor the outside world is looking to embrace from China"s latest prominent round of opening-up.

"Such technology exportation may invite competition. However, we welcome such competition and we would like to regard the issue as a win-win game. By exporting the technology and facilitating international business and investment collaboration, platforms like ZhongAn Technology and ZhongAn International could empower more industry institutions, redefine the industry processes and eventually improve on how the industry is perceived by customers."

Historic move

Opening-up has been the buzzword for the world"s second-largest economy this year as it commemorates the 40th anniversary of the country"s groundbreaking financial reforms.

The economic powerhouse has charted a new course of making its $42-trillion financial sector more accessible than ever to the rest of the world — a historic move that President Xi Jinping and newly-appointed People"s Bank of China Governor Yi Gang had promised at the annual Boao Forum for Asia in Hainan province last month.

Xu believes ZhongAn itself traces its roots to the big strides the mainland has made in opening up such a tantalizing multi-trillion-dollar financial sector.

"Basically, the nature of the internet lies in its openness. From the inter-governmental perspective, as ZhongAn expands its focus from insurance and finance to a combination of finance and technology, it also marks a major step in opening up our businesses," Xu reckons.

For years, stories of how China has leapfrogged the rest of the world — from credit cards to digital payments, from landline phone network to 4G — have been trotted out as a living embodiment of the sheer power of internet technology.

The impeccable strength of internet technology has essentially reshaped China"s business landscape and created a cluster of brand new market opportunities for those with the foresight to carve out a niche, Xu points out.

A case in point is a tailor-made insurance product for small and medium-sized online store operators, who are part and parcel of the largest and fastest-growing e-commerce market on the planet, and are beset with the difficulties of taking out loans from local banks.

Riding high on the government"s efforts to press ahead with financial innovation in this area four years ago, ZhongAn rolled out an insurance product, which works as the deposits that online store operators have to park in the major e-commerce marketplaces, notes Xu.

Uncharted territory

The new product frees up a good deal of liquidity that otherwise would have been locked in e-commerce platforms, and stands as a vivid example of how insurance can be used creatively to address financing needs.

Amid the hustle and bustle of the nation"s burgeoning sharing economy, ZhongAn has sniffed out a business opportunity from the fresh employment relationship, which is based on the emerging self-employed and multi-employed business models, and has what it takes to shake up the traditional employer-employee relationship.

"Such insurance demand may be fragmented. But the would-be insured people could be tremendous," says Xu.

Betting big on the national undertakings to shift the timeline for the opening-up from years to just months, Xu believes ZhongAn"s expertise and know-how would be given full play in a wider world.

Calling himself a man who refuses to be labeled and generalized, Xu does not want to be confined to a certain area and always seeks to step into uncharted territory.

Such a pursuit comes as an interesting echo with ZhongAn"s endeavor. The insurer, backed by the "three Mas" — Alibaba"s founder Jack Ma Yun, Tencent"s Pony Ma Huateng and Ping An Insurance Chairman Ma Mingzhe — has built up its reputation from the insurance business.

But ZhongAn has much to offer. Capitalizing on its leading edge in both financial and insurance technology, the company is right on the path to polish its brand as a disruptive technology upstart, says Xu.


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