June 23, 2021

Capital Calls: Chinese e-insurance IPO warns Wall Street

Shen Peng, founder and CEO of Chinese online insurance technology firm Waterdrop Inc, speaks during…

Shen Peng, founder and CEO of Chinese online insurance technology firm Waterdrop Inc, speaks during an interview with Reuters ahead of the company’s U.S. initial public offering (IPO) on New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), in Beijing, China May 7, 2021. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang – RC2TAN9JXXRD

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MUTUALLY INSURED DESTRUCTION. Online insurance platform Waterdrop closed down read more 19{5633677216ef9735f63f38035af82673fc44b9e3454c8b7eb714daea6e5c9f2a} on its first day of trading in New York. Amid Beijing’s campaign against the fintech sector, the offering was a tough sell. Still, the Tencent-backed (0700.HK) company raised $360 million after pricing shares at the top of the range – at a valuation of nearly $5 billion, or 100 times historical sales.

Waterdrop is one of many startups that started out selling “mutual aid” services, a largely unregulated business in which members contribute small monthly amounts in exchange for a guaranteed lump-sum payment for critical illnesses. In March, Waterdrop closed down the unit.

What’s left is mainly an online marketplace for insurance with ugly financials. The company has run at an operating loss since 2018 yet founder Shen Peng told Reuters “becoming profitable is not our priority”.

China needs alternatives to supplement thin public coverage. Ant, for all its troubles, is sticking with mutual aid. But until a profitable model is found, best not price too aggressively. (By Pete Sweeney)

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