Exec explains what Chinese insurance giant Ping An is looking for in investments

  • Financial technology, or fintech, and digital health are two key investment areas for one of China's largest insurance companies, according to a senior executive at Ping An Insurance Group.
  • Last year, the Shenzhen-based company launched a $1 billion Global Voyager Fund to invest in start-ups outside its home market in a major overseas push as it competes with tech giants Alibaba and Tencent — both of which have invested widely in foreign markets.
  • The Global Voyage Fund is "a billion-dollar fund focused on fintech and digital health, which are two of the most important areas for our company," Ping An's Chief Innovation Officer Jonathan Larsen told CNBC.
Jonathan Larsen, chief innovation officer of Ping An Insurance Group.
Ore Huiying | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Jonathan Larsen, chief innovation officer of Ping An Insurance Group.

Financial technology and digital health are two key investment areas for one of China's largest insurance companies, according to a senior executive.

Ping An is a major finance conglomerate in China, doing business in insurance, banking, investment and technology. Last year, the Shenzhen-based company launched its $1 billion Global Voyager Fund to invest in start-ups outside its home market in a major overseas push. That put it in direct competition with tech giants Alibaba and Tencent — both of which have invested widely in foreign markets.

The Global Voyage Fund is "a billion-dollar fund focused on fintech and digital health, which are two of the most important areas for our company," Ping An Insurance Group Chief Innovation Officer Jonathan Larsen told CNBC's Nancy Hungerford on Saturday at the IMF and World Bank annual meetings in Bali, Indonesia.

Larsen, a former Citi banker, is also chairman and CEO for the Global Voyager Fund and manages it out of Hong Kong.

"We're finding really very interesting opportunities right now," he said, pointing particularly to health-related areas including digital imaging, X-rays and brain scans. "We're working with a company right now that can identify 30 diseases with an AI algorithm by scanning the back of your eye."

"These technologies have transformative power, not just in emerging markets but actually all over the world," he added.

Larsen explained that the objective of the fund is to make investments that give Ping An strategic access to technologies that can create value for the company. The investment opportunities that interest him are less about "putting lots and lots of capital to build up a user base," and more about an "asset-light model where (Ping An) can be a technology enabler."

The idea, Larsen said, is to make the technologies behind Ping An's facial and voice recognition, digital lending, credit scoring and fraud scoring available to other companies around the world.

Last month, the fund invested in an Israel-based start-up, MeMed Diagnostics, that is trying to prevent the misuse of antibiotics. Its previous investments include a U.S. and Israel-based health care start-up called TytoCare and a London-based fintech company called 10X Future Technologies.

When asked about prospects in the United States, in light of the ongoing trade tensions between Washington and Beijing, Larsen said the fund's investments are going to be "relatively small in scale."

"Our typical ticket size, our average, is going to be in the $10 (million) to $30 million range, typically. Our largest deal size might be a $100 million," he said. "Typically, we're looking at 10 to 20 percent of a company and some kind of ongoing partnership or option in the longer term for such a partnership."

U.S. President Donald Trump's administration recently announced a plan that could put additional restrictions on foreign investment in American companies, which some have suggested is another move to punish Beijing over its trade practices.

Larsen said it was "unlikely" that Ping An's investments in fintech and health are going to "trigger national issues in either country."

"But time will tell," he added.

Larsen said there was "tremendous innovation" going on not only in Israel but across Europe and even in countries like New Zealand and Australia — that would potentially allow the fund to cast a wider net in search for investment opportunities beyond the United States.