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Business Deals

Rakuten moves into property insurance with latest acquisition

E-tailer to buy Nomura unit Asahi Fire & Marine with an eye toward fintech

TOKYO -- Japanese e-commerce group Rakuten will expand further into insurance by acquiring a Nomura-owned property insurer and using it as an outlet for new data-driven policies.

Billionaire Hiroshi Mikitani's group plans to spend 40 billion yen to 50 billion yen ($368 million to $460 million) to purchase all of Tokyo-based Asahi Fire & Marine Insurance by summer, starting with stakes held by financial group Nomura Holdings and Nomura Real Estate Development.

The deal comes as Rakuten has been fortifying a financial services portfolio that includes banking and credit cards. Drawing on data about its more than 90 million loyalty program members, the group will develop insurance policies better tailored to customers than off-the-rack products. Premiums could become more granular based on predictions about customer households and spending patterns -- a person buying a crib is likely expecting a baby, for example.

The Rakuten-owned insurer will consider offering policies for artificial-intelligence-equipped smart homes. It will also market insurance products to vendors in Rakuten's virtual mall and to partner travel agencies of Rakuten. Possibilities include policies designed for providers of Airbnb-style lodgings.

Rakuten entered the life insurance business in 2013. Asahi Fire & Marine was founded in 1951 and had 368.9 billion yen in assets at the end of March 2017. It sells home, auto, accident, travel and other insurance plans.

The marriage of finance and technology is letting internet companies like Rakuten into the previously out-of-reach banking and insurance sectors.

Messaging app provider Line has announced a move into asset management, while Yahoo Japan has begun selling AI-managed investment trusts. Overseas, established financial institutions are looking with rising anxiety at the prospect of competing with the likes of Amazon.com and Google.

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