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Sumitomo Marine & Fire Insurance Co. and Sumitomo Life Insurance Co. announced Tuesday they have agreed to cooperate in the nonlife insurance business. The agreement calls for mutual marketing of both life and nonlife products through their respective sales channels. It also includes cooperation in claims-handling procedures in the nonlife insurance business. Through the alliance, Sumitomo Life’s nonlife subsidiary — Sumi-sei General Insurance Co. — will have access to Sumitomo Marine’s 180 claims offices around the country. This will help the infant nonlife subsidiary improve its level of customer service, Sumitomo Life officials said. The nation’s major life insurers, including Sumitomo Life, entered the nonlife business through newly established subsidiaries following deregulation in April 1996. A wider range of cooperation, such as joint development of products, is possible in the future, the firms said. The 1996 deregulation paved the way for life insurers to expand into nonlife insurance through subsidiaries, and for nonlife insurers to launch life insurance businesses through subsidiaries. However, casualty insurance units of life insurers and life insurance units of nonlife insurance companies are both facing a tough business environment. The officials denied some media reports that the move is a step by the major life insurer to scale back its nonlife business, which is still in the red. Sumitomo Life has said it wants to make its nonlife subsidiary profitable in fiscal 2001. As part of the powerful Sumitomo “keiretsu” cross-shareholding group, both firms have been exchanging personnel since 1996, but the formal for agreement cooperation is the first of its kind in the industry, spurring possibilities of similar alliances in the future. Tuesday’s announcement follows Sumitomo Marine’s decision in November not to join a consolidation plan with three other nonlife firms — Mitsui Marine & Fire, Koa Fire & Marine and Nippon Fire & Marine. Sumitomo Marine’s president, at a news conference in November announcing the decision, expressed willingness to explore tieups both inside and outside the industry.

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