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Leading Canada-based financial services company, Manulife Financial Corporation (MFC - Analyst Report) has set up a head office in the Southeast Asian country of Cambodia. The new office has been set up to expand its business and presence in the Cambodian region, though it has already started its operations from June this year. The country, with a population of approximately 15 million, promises to be a good market for Manulife.

Earlier, during November 2011, Manulife received an approval from the Canadian government to establish a fully-owned life insurance operation in the region. The inauguration was scheduled to coincide with Manulife’s 125th anniversary. The company was established in 1887 and has been providing clients with reliable and progressive solutions and helped them to make significant financial decisions. 

With market-leading positions in Asia, Canada and the United States, the company leverages a diverse business platform that offers a range of financial products in both developed and developing markets around the world.

The Cambodian operations will fall under its ASEAN segment and will mark the 11th Asian country in which Manulife has a presence.

The insurance industry in Cambodia seems lucrative, especially after the opening up of the sector in 2000, which allowed the entry of foreign players in the country. The country’s regulations required an insurance company to have a minimum paid up capital of $7 million. Though it was very easy to meet the financial requirements, it will it will be relatively tough for Manulife to educate its masses, which is unaware of its numerous insurance products and their benefits.

However, Manulife is enthusiastic about cashing in on the emerging life insurance needs of the people of Cambodia. The insurance market in this country remains largely underpenetrated with a mere 0.3% of the total population carrying insurance protection.

There are at present a handful of insurance companies, which include six general insurance players (led by Forte Insurance) and one life insurance company, Cambodia Life, which is a newly-formed joint venture between the government and four Asian firms. In the reinsurance space, there is just one domestic reinsurance company, the state-owned Cambodia Re.

With only a few companies in the market, competition is not much of a problem, and there are limited insurance choices for people. Also, high premium costs allow only 1-2% of the total Cambodian population to buy insurance protection at present.

Manulife is bent on serving the remaining population via its differentiated cost-effective products. Moreover, growing awareness about the importance of insurance will make it easy for Manulife to gain customers.

Manulife closely competes with China Life Insurance Co. Ltd. (LFC - Analyst Report) and Sun Life Financial Inc. (SLF - Analyst Report). The stock currently retains a Zacks # 2 Rank, which translates into a short-term Outperform rating. Considering the fundamentals, we are also maintaining our long-term Outperform recommendation on the shares.

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