Billionaire Li's FWD Said to Mull Singapore Dual-Class IPO

(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong billionaire Richard Li’s FWD Group is considering listing in Singapore with a dual-class structure, as the insurer moves ahead with its initial public offering preparations, people with knowledge of the matter said.

FWD is discussing with advisers the merits of listing in Singapore using such a structure, which can offer enhanced voting power to protect the influence of founders and management, according to the people. The insurer has consulted Singapore Exchange Ltd. officials about the possibility, the people said, asking not to be identified as the deliberations are private.

The Hong Kong-based company is also considering its home city as a potential listing venue, the people said. FWD has started laying the groundwork for an IPO that could take place in the next couple years, Bloomberg News reported last month.

A Singapore listing of FWD, which manages more than $26.6 billion of assets, would be a coup for the Southeast Asian exchange as it seeks to grab a greater share of deals from competing financial centers. The bourse last month joined Hong Kong in approving regulations that allow companies to list with dual-class shares.

No final decisions have been made, and there’s no certainty the deliberations will lead to a transaction, according to the people. Representatives for FWD and SGX declined to comment.

Exchange Competition

The Singapore bourse has been working to attract big-ticket listings from overseas. It is considering a range of measures to woo a listing of energy giant Saudi Arabian Oil Co., people with knowledge of the matter said last year.

The exchange was pushing in 2011 to attract a share sale from English soccer team Manchester United, and it was seeking the next year to attract a listing of Formula One that could have raised as much as $3 billion, Bloomberg News reported at the time. Manchester United eventually chose to list in the U.S., while Formula One’s IPO didn’t take place in part due to a volatile equity market.

FWD’s backers include Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC Pte. Other investors include Swiss Re AG, the world’s second-largest reinsurer, and Asian private equity firm RRJ Capital.

Li, the son of Hong Kong’s richest man, has been building FWD through acquisitions over the last five years. He formed the company after spending $2.1 billion to buy ING Groep NV’s insurance and pension units in Hong Kong, Macau and Thailand in 2013.

Since then, FWD has expanded in Japan and Southeast Asia and tied up with banks in the region to sell its insurance policies. The company had over 2.7 million customers spread across eight Asian markets at the end of last year, its website shows.

Thailand is FWD’s biggest market in terms of customers, followed by its Hong Kong and Macau business, according to its website.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.