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Tokio Marine buys high net worth insurer Pure for US$3.1b

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Tokio Marine CEO Satoru Komiya, who took the reins earlier this year, has vowed to stick with his predecessor's strategy of expanding through overseas acquisitions. The company has spent more than $17 billion in the past 11 years on a string of large takeovers outside of Japan, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

[TOKYO] Pure Group, the high net worth insurer set to be acquired by Tokio Marine Holdings Inc, had been on the Japanese company's radar for more than a decade.

After Pure was created in 2006, Tokio Marine tried to set up a meeting with its founders. That effort fizzled, but in the past six months - including one outing to a Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees game - executives from the two companies finally got to know each other. The result: a US$3.1 billion deal announced on Thursday that gives the Japanese insurer a foothold in the market for wealthy Americans.

"Pure, in our mind, was always very high on that list" of potential acquisitions, Chris Williams, who helps run Tokio Marine's international business, said in an interview. "The business that they've carved out from basically a startup to where they are today has just been very impressive."

Tokio Marine, Japan's largest property and casualty insurer, will purchase Pure's holding company Privilege Underwriters Inc from investors including Stone Point Capital LLC and KKR & Co, according to a statement.

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The deal is the latest push abroad by Japanese insurers trying to diversify geographic risks to make up for diminishing prospects at home. The insurer's largest deal to date is its US$7.5 billion purchase of Houston, Texas-based HCC Insurance Holdings Inc in 2015. Tokio's Pure transaction helps expand the company's access to a market for speciality-insurance risks, according to Tokio Marine's Williams.

"The US is a terrific market for that, and we just see some great growth opportunities here," Williams said. "We like the speciality nature of it, rather than it being a commoditised product."

Pure, based in White Plains, New York, is led by chief executive officer Ross Buchmueller, who helped found the insurer after leaving American International Group Inc. The company covers almost 90,000 high net worth families and helps protect homes that are generally valued at US$1 million or more. The group, which competes with insurers including AIG and Chubb Ltd, also covers risks for belongings including cars, boats and jewellery.

Mr Buchmueller will continue to lead the group as an independent unit within Tokio Marine, according to the statement.

"You have a 140-year-old Japanese global company and a 14-year-old US niche insurance underwriter, and yet they are so similar in so many ways, share so many of the same values and beliefs," Mr Buchmueller said in an interview. "Every time we got together, it kept reinforcing this sense that we see the world in a very similar way."

The group manages Privilege Underwriters Reciprocal Exchange, a policyholder-owned reciprocal insurer, and plans to keep that structure in place, Mr Buchmueller said.

Acquisition spree

Tokio Marine CEO Satoru Komiya, who took the reins earlier this year, has vowed to stick with his predecessor's strategy of expanding through overseas acquisitions. The company has spent more than US$17 billion in the past 11 years on a string of large takeovers outside of Japan, data compiled by Bloomberg shows.

Last year, it agreed to buy a minority stake in South Africa's Hollard Insurance Co. It's considering buying Malaysian lender RHB Bank Bhd's general insurance business, people familiar with the matter said in August.

Morgan Stanley, Sullivan & Cromwell LLP and KPMG LLP advised Tokio Marine, while Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP assisted Pure. The deal is subject to regulatory approvals and expected to be completed in the first three months of 2020.

Tokio Marine's deal is a sign of interest from international buyers in acquiring US operations "at very full prices", according to Meyer Shields, an analyst at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. The transaction also shows potential for more competitiveness in the high-net-worth insurance market, Mr Shields said Thursday in a note to clients.

Mr Williams said he's been getting lots feedback on the deal since the announcement.

"My emails have been lit up, and it's been very surprising to me the number of CEOs of insurance companies that have said, 'Congratulations, great company. By the way, I'm a Pure member'," Mr Williams said. "To me, that's a terrific endorsement."

BLOOMBERG