NZ’s newest $1 billion company: Partners Life to be sold to Japanese insurer

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New Zealand life insurer Partners Life is being sold to Tokyo-listed global insurer Dai-ichi Life in a $1 billion deal just 12 years after the company was founded.

Managing director Naomi Ballantyne​ started Partners Life in 2010. It had grown to insuring more than 225,000 lives with $427.9 million in premiums as at March 31.

“I’m so excited, I’m extremely proud, and this is the dream outcome for me. Not many people get that in their lives, so I’m very humbled as well,” she said.

The sale was subject to conditions including regulatory approvals. Under the deal, Ballantyne and the current executive team would stay, and Partners Life would remain a stand-alone New Zealand business.

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In December 2010, a small group of investors formally agreed to back the company Ballantyne founded with Richard Coon, the founder of reverse mortgage company Sentinel.

The intention from the start was to create a fast-growth rival to challenge the likes of Sovereign, Onepath Life, AMP and Axa.

Ballantyne had been instrumental in building up giant life company Sovereign, and was the founder of ING Life, then called Onepath Life, now owned by Cigna.

Partners Life founder Naomi Ballantyne says the deal is “the dream outcome”.

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Partners Life founder Naomi Ballantyne says the deal is “the dream outcome”.

The deal was a change of shareholder, not a merger or acquisition, Ballantyne said. She did not plan to leave the company “any time soon”.

“I’m just so excited as a shareholder, I’m excited that the risks that I took to start the company have paid off in this way, but actually as a managing director the opportunity that the Dai-ichi Life ownership brings for us to truly position Partners Life where I’ve always believed we should be, which is leading, really, the world, showing everyone how life insurance could or should be done, is now extremely possible, and I can’t wait,” she said.

The deal was a positive outcome for shareholders, she said, including majority shareholder Blackstone, a global private equity firm.

“Our shareholders have collectively been the backbone of Partners Life’s growth over the last decade, and we are so thankful for their support and guidance.”

The purchase price was $980m, while costs including advisory fees were $30m.

As a privately held company Partners Life was unable to disclose the return shareholders, including Ballantyne, would receive from the sale, a spokesperson said.

Stewart Taylor, chief financial officer of Partners Life, said Dai-ichi Life was a specialist in personal risk insurance, and its scale, access to capital, and industry knowledge would be a benefit to the New Zealand business.

Dai-ichi Life operated in Japan, Australia, Vietnam, India, Thailand, Indonesia, the United States, Cambodia and Myanmar, and had total assets of more than US$500 billion (NZ$774 billion) compared with Partners Life’s $1.3b in total assets.

Seiji Inagaki, president of Dai-ichi Life, said Partners Life had established a solid market position, and had a strong customer base “and an impressive track record of growth”.

In a statement to the Tokyo stock exchange, Dai-ichi Life said Partners Life became profitable within its first five years of operations, and grew rapidly to become the second-largest player in the New Zealand life insurance market in its 10th year of operation.

In December 2020 Partners Life entered into an agreement to buy the BNZ life insurance business from BNZ’s Australian parent NAB for $290m. The proposed transaction was pending Reserve Bank of New Zealand approval.



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