SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20549
the fiscal year ended
Date of event requiring this shell company report. . . . . . . . . . . . . .
For the transition period from to
(Exact name of Registrant as specified in its charter)
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(Jurisdiction of incorporation or organization)
(Address of principal executive offices)
(Name, Telephone, E-mail and/or Facsimile number and Address of Company Contact Person)
Securities registered or to be registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:
Title of Each Class
Name of Each Exchange on Which Registered
American depositary shares, each representing 20 ordinary shares
(The NASDAQ Global Select Market)
Not for trading, but only in connection with the listing on The NASDAQ Global Select Market of American depositary shares, each representing 20 ordinary shares.
Securities registered or to be registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act:
(Title of Class)
Securities for which there is a reporting obligation pursuant to Section 15(d) of the Act:
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Indicate the number of outstanding shares of each of the Issuer’s classes of capital or common stock as of the close of the period covered by the annual report.
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act.
If this report is an annual or transition report, indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days.
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically every Interactive Data File required to be submitted and posted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit and post such files).
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, or an emerging growth company. See definition of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer” and “emerging growth company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act. (Check one):
||Accelerated filer ☐|
|Non-accelerated filer ☐||
Emerging growth company
If an emerging growth company that prepares its financial statements in accordance with U.S. GAAP, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards † provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act. ☐
† The term “new or revised financial accounting standard” refers to any update issued by the Financial Accounting Standards Board to its Accounting Standards Codification after April 5, 2012.
Indicate by check mark which basis of accounting the registrant has used to prepare the financial statements included in this filing:
International Financial Reporting Standards as issued
by the International Accounting Standards Board ☐
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Item 17 ☐ Item 18 ☐
If this is an annual report, indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act).
(APPLICABLE ONLY TO ISSUERS INVOLVED IN BANKRUPTCY PROCEEDINGS DURING THE PAST FIVE YEARS)
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has filed all documents and reports required to be filed by Sections 12, 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 subsequent to the distribution of securities under a plan confirmed by a court.
Yes ☐ No ☐
TABLE OF CONTENTS
|Item 1.||Identity of Directors, Senior Management and Advisers||1|
|Item 2.||Offer Statistics and Expected Timetable||1|
|Item 3.||Key Information||1|
|Item 4.||Information on the Company||35|
|Item 4A.||Unresolved Staff Comments||60|
|Item 5.||Operating and Financial Review and Prospects||60|
|Item 6.||Directors, Senior Management and Employees||82|
|Item 7.||Major Shareholders and Related Party Transactions||93|
|Item 8.||Financial Information||95|
|Item 9.||The Offer and Listing||97|
|Item 10.||Additional Information||97|
|Item 11.||Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures about Market Risk||108|
|Item 12.||Description of Securities Other than Equity Securities||109|
|Item 13.||Defaults, Dividend Arrearages and Delinquencies||111|
|Item 14.||Material Modifications to the Rights of Security Holders and Use of Proceeds||111|
|Item 15.||Controls and Procedures||111|
|Item 16A.||Audit Committee Financial Expert||114|
|Item 16B.||Code of Ethics||114|
|Item 16C.||Principal Accountant Fees and Services||114|
|Item 16D.||Exemptions from the Listing Standards for Audit Committees||114|
|Item 16E.||Purchases of Equity Securities by the Issuer and Affiliated Purchasers||115|
|Item 16F||Change in Registrant’s Certifying Accountant||115|
|Item 16G.||Corporate Governance||116|
|Item 16H.||Mine Safety Disclosure||116|
|Item 17.||Financial Statements||117|
|Item 18.||Financial Statements||117|
In this annual report, unless the context otherwise requires:
|●||“we,” “us,” “our company,” “our” or “Fanhua” refer to Fanhua Inc., formerly known as CNinsure Inc., its subsidiaries and consolidated affiliated entities, if applicable;|
|●||“China” or “PRC” refers to the People’s Republic of China, excluding, solely for the purpose of this annual report, Taiwan, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and Macau Special Administrative Region;|
|●||“provinces” of China refers to the 22 provinces, the four municipalities directly administered by the central government (Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin and Chongqing), the five autonomous regions (Xinjiang, Tibet, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia and Guangxi), excluding, solely for the purpose of this annual report, Taiwan, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and Macau Special Administrative Region;|
|●||“shares” or “ordinary shares” refers to our ordinary shares, par value US$0.001 per share;|
|●||“ADSs” refers to our American depositary shares, each of which represents 20 ordinary shares;|
|●||all references to “RMB” or “Renminbi” are to the legal currency of China, all references to “US$” and “U.S. dollars” are to the legal currency of the United States and all references to “HK$” and “HK dollars” are to the legal currency of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region; and|
|●||all discrepancies in any table between the amounts identified as total amounts and the sum of the amounts listed therein are due to rounding.|
|Item 1.||Identity of Directors, Senior Management and Advisers|
|Item 2.||Offer Statistics and Expected Timetable|
|Item 3.||Key Information|
|A.||Selected Financial Data|
The following selected consolidated statements of income data for the years ended December 31, 2017, 2018 and 2019 and the consolidated balance sheets data as of December 31, 2018 and 2019 have been derived from our audited consolidated financial statements, which are included in this annual report beginning on page F-1. The selected consolidated statements of income data for the years ended December 31, 2015 and 2016 and the selected consolidated balance sheets data as of December 31, 2015, 2016 and 2017 have been derived from our consolidated financial statements, which are not included in this annual report. Our historical results do not necessarily indicate results expected for any future periods. The selected consolidated financial data should be read in conjunction with, and are qualified in their entirety by reference to, our audited consolidated financial statements and related notes and “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects” below. Our audited consolidated financial statements are prepared and presented in accordance with U.S. GAAP.
In November 2017, we disposed of Fanhua Bocheng Insurance Brokerage Co., Ltd., or Bocheng, which was the primary operating entity of our insurance brokerage segment. Accordingly, the insurance brokerage segment was accounted as discontinued operations. Consolidated statements of operations for the years ended 2015 and 2016 as presented below have been restated to conform to the current presentation.
|For the Year Ended December 31,|
|(in thousands, except shares, per share and per ADS data)|
|Consolidated Statements of Income Data|
|Life insurance business||319,916||990,541||2,424,444||2,870,776||3,193,625||458,736|
|P&C insurance business||1,835,348||2,755,930||1,355,773||273,097||141,772||20,364|
|Total net revenues||2,459,110||4,082,884||4,088,473||3,471,263||3,706,003||532,334|
|Operating costs and expenses:|
|Life insurance business||(205,313||)||(673,230||)||(1,636,340||)||(1,943,053||)||(2,166,126||)||(311,144||)|
|P&C insurance business||(1,469,949||)||(2,233,561||)||(1,228,542||)||(208,803||)||(97,826||)||(14,052||)|
|Total operating costs||(1,856,632||)||(3,106,601||)||(3,059,407||)||(2,346,015||)||(2,483,448||)||(356,725||)|
|Selling expenses (1)||(125,041||)||(502,802||)||(221,785||)||(231,075||)||(278,085||)||(39,944||)|
|General and administrative expenses (1)||(387,362||)||(448,989||)||(481,947||)||(534,145||)||(475,107||)||(68,245||)|
|Total operating costs and expenses||(2,430,662||)||(4,091,350||)||(3,815,337||)||(3,045,520||)||(3,236,640||)||(464,914||)|
|Income (loss) from continuing operations||28,448||(8,466||)||273,136||425,743||469,363||67,420|
|Other income, net:|
|Income from continuing operations before income taxes, share of income and impairment of affiliates, net and discontinued operations||172,242||124,051||505,095||667,213||560,925||80,572|
|Income tax expense||(25,553||)||(27,249||)||(167,803||)||(224,586||)||(143,816||)||(20,658||)|
|Share of income of affiliates||26,924||48,293||108,944||174,468||(224,555||)||(32,255||)|
|Net income from continuing operations||173,613||145,095||446,236||617,095||192,554||27,659|
|Net income from discontinued operations, net of tax||41,868||22,543||5,480||—||—||—|
|Less: Net income attributable to the noncontrolling interests||5,395||10,591||2,488||7,180||3,622||520|
|Net income attributable to the Company’s shareholders||210,086||157,047||449,228||609,915||188,932||27,139|
|Net income per share:|
|Net income from continuing operation||0.14||0.12||0.36||0.49||0.17||0.02|
|Net income from discontinued operation||0.04||0.02||0.00||0.00||0.00||0.00|
|Net income from continuing operation||0.14||0.11||0.36||0.49||0.17||0.02|
|Net income from discontinued operation||0.03||0.02||0.00||0.00||0.00||0.00|
|Net income per ADS:|
|Net income from continuing operation||2.92||2.32||7.20||9.84||3.46||0.50|
|Net income from discontinued operation||0.73||0.39||0.09||0.00||0.00||0.00|
|Net income from continuing operation||2.79||2.23||7.20||9.83||3.46||0.50|
|Net income from discontinued operation||0.70||0.37||0.09||0.00||0.00||0.00|
|Shares used in calculating net income per share:|
|(1)||Including share-based compensation expenses of RMB17.7 million, RMB4.9 million, nil, nil and RMB0.4 million in aggregate for the years ended December 31, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019, respectively.|
|As of December 31,|
|Consolidated Balance Sheet Data:|
|Cash and cash equivalents||1,115,172||236,952||363,746||772,823||169,653||24,369|
|Total current assets||3,513,061||3,694,564||4,132,527||3,061,107||2,681,751||385,210|
|Total current liabilities||488,448||747,119||661,860||905,583||947,974||136,168|
|Total liabilities and shareholders’ equity||4,014,428||4,238,568||4,737,742||3,866,611||3,440,843||494,246|
Exchange Rate Information
Our business is primarily conducted in China and all of our revenues are denominated in RMB. This annual report contains translations of RMB amounts into U.S. dollars at specific rates solely for the convenience of the readers. Unless otherwise noted, all translations from RMB to U.S. dollars in this annual report were made at a rate of RMB6.9618 to US$1.00, the noon buying rate in effect as of December 31, 2019 in The City of New York for cable transfers of RMB, as set forth in H.10 weekly statistical release of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. We make no representation that any RMB or U.S. dollar amounts could have been, or could be, converted into U.S. dollars or RMB, as the case may be, at any particular rate, or at all. The PRC government imposes control over its foreign currency reserves in part through direct regulation of the conversion of RMB into foreign exchange and through restrictions on foreign trade. On April 24, 2020, the noon buying rate was RMB7.0813 to US$1.00.
|B.||Capitalization and Indebtedness|
|C.||Reasons for the Offer and Use of Proceeds|
Risks Related to Our Business and Industry
If and when our contracts with insurance companies are suspended or changed, our business and operating results will be materially and adversely affected.
We primarily act as agents for insurance companies in distributing their products to retail customers. We also provide claims adjusting services principally to insurance companies. Our relationships with the insurance companies are governed by agreements between us and the insurance companies. We have entered into strategic partnership agreements with most of our major insurance company partners for the distribution of life, property and casualty insurance products and the provision of claims adjusting services at the corporate headquarters level. While this approach allows us to obtain more favorable terms from insurance companies by combining the sales volumes and service fees of all of our subsidiaries operating insurance agency and claims adjusting businesses, it also means that the termination of a major contract could have a material adverse effect on our business. Under the framework of the headquarter-to-headquarter agreements, our subsidiaries operating insurance agency and claims adjusting businesses generally also enter into contracts at a local level with the respective provincial, city and district branches of the insurance companies. Generally, each branch of these insurance companies has independent authority to enter into contracts with our relevant subsidiaries, and the termination of a contract with one branch has no significant effect on our contracts with the other branches. See “Item 4. Information on the Company — B. Business Overview — Insurance Company Partners.” These contracts establish, among other things, the scope of our authority, the pricing of the insurance products we distribute and our fee rates. These contracts typically have a term of one year and certain contracts can be terminated by the insurance companies with little advance notice. Moreover, before or upon expiration of a contract, the insurance company that is a party to that contract may agree to renew it only with changes in material terms, including the amount of commissions and fees we receive, which could reduce our revenues to be generated from that contract.
For the year ended December 31, 2019, our top five insurance company partners were Huaxia Life Insurance Co., Ltd., or Huaxia, Aeon Life Insurance Co., Ltd., or Aeon, Sinatay Life Insurance Co., Ltd., or Sinatay, Tian’an Life Insurance Co., Ltd., or Tian’an, and Evergrande Life Insurance Co., Ltd., or Evergrande. Among these top five partners, each of Huaxia, Aeon, Sinatay, Tian’an accounted for more than 10% of our total net revenues individually in 2019, with Huaxia accounting for 23.8%, Aeon accounting for 18.3%, Sinatay accounting for 16.1% and Tian’an accounting for 12.1%, respectively.
If we fail to attract and retain productive agents, especially entrepreneurial agents, and qualified claims adjustors, our business and operating results could be materially and adversely affected.
All of our sales of life insurance products and a substantial portion of our sales of property and casualty insurance products are conducted through our individual sales agents, who are not our employees. Some of these sales agents are significantly more productive than others in generating sales. In recent years, some entrepreneurial management staff or senior sales agents of major insurance companies in China have chosen to leave their employers or principals and become independent agents. We refer to these individuals as entrepreneurial agents. An entrepreneurial agent is usually able to assemble and lead a team of sales agents. We have been actively recruiting and will continue to recruit entrepreneurial agents to join our distribution and service network as our sales agents. Entrepreneurial agents have been instrumental to the development of our life insurance business. In addition, we rely entirely on our in-house claims adjustors to provide claims adjusting services. Because claims adjustment requires technical skills, the technical competence of claims adjustors is essential to establishing and maintaining our brand image and relationships with our customers.
As of December 31, 2019, we had 670,104 sales agents and 1,627 claim adjustors. Out of the 670,104 sales agents, 394,327 were performing agents, who have sold at least one insurance policy in 2019. The number of performing agents who have sold at least one life insurance policy in 2019 was 131,326. If we are unable to attract and retain the core group of highly productive sales agents, particularly entrepreneurial agents, and qualified claims adjustors, our business could be materially and adversely affected. Competition for sales personnel and claims adjustors from insurance companies and other insurance intermediaries may also force us to increase the compensation of our sales agents, in-house sales representatives and claims adjustors, which would increase operating costs and reduce our profitability.
If our stock price is below certain levels after five years, the structure of our 521 plan may adversely affect our business and results of operations.
On June 14, 2018, we obtained approval from our board of directors, or the Board, to implement a plan, or the 521 Plan, which enables eligible participants to invest in the Company by purchasing a total of 14 million of the Company’s ADSs at a price of US$27.38 per ADS. Eligible participants in the 521 Plan include certain entrepreneurial team leaders, general managers of our provincial branches or subsidiaries, and key managerial personnel, excluding senior management, or collectively, the Participants. 10% of the total subscription cost of the shares under the 521 Plan was contributed by the Participants and the remaining portion was funded by loans granted to the Participants by the Company, which bears an interest at a rate of 8% per annum. Dividends distributed by the Company to which the Participants are entitled to receive will be used to pay back interest on the loans when the loans are outstanding. Shares beneficially owned by the Participants under the 521 Plan are pledged to the Company by the Participants to secure the payment of the loans. These Participants must fulfill certain performance goals within the five-year period from 2019 to 2023 in order to enjoy the full increase in the value of the ADSs, and their ADSs will be subject to a five-year lock-up period.
Since we announced the 521 Plan on June 14, 2018, the price of our ADSs has dropped from US$36.8 to US$19.580 on April 28, 2020, and fluctuated in between, largely affected by, among other things, impact from the Covid-19 outbreak, uncertainty around the Sino-US trade tension and concerns about a softening macroeconomic environment in China and abroad. If our stock price continues to fall or otherwise remains below the subscription cost of US$27.38 per ADS over the next several years, it may dampen the morale of the Participants and thereby adversely affect our business and results of operations. In addition, the Participants may default on the loans we provide to them under the 521 Plan. Although the stocks held by the Participants under the 521 Plan are pledged to secure the payment of the loans which will mature at the end of the five-year lock-up period, with a continued drop in stock price, some Participants may choose not to repay the loans and interests at the end of the lock-up period or upon termination of their employment or agent arrangement with us. The Company may have to collect the loans by selling the pledged shares, and there is no guarantee that the proceeds from the sales of the shares would be adequate to pay back the principal and interest due under the loans and therefore may cause losses to the Company.
If our investments in our mobile and online platforms are not successful, our business and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
We have devoted significant efforts to developing and managing our mobile and online platforms. On January 1, 2012, we launched Baowang (www.baoxian.com), an online insurance platform which allows customers to search for and purchase a wide range of commoditized insurance products, including accident insurance, short-term medical insurance, travel insurance and homeowner insurance from various insurance carriers. In October 2012, we launched CNpad Auto, the mobile workstation of our proprietary sales support system, which enables sales agents to help their clients place auto insurance underwritten by multiple different insurance carriers on their mobile devices., and to apply for and complete the purchase of the policy that best suits their clients’ needs anywhere and anytime. In August 2014, we unveiled eHuzhu (www.ehuzhu.com), an online mutual aid platform that provides risk-protection programs on a mutual commitment basis among program members. In August 2014, we also rolled out Chetong.net (www.chetong.net), an online-to-offline public service platform that integrates claims services and auto service resources from around the country including services such as damage assessment and loss estimations. In September 2017, we launched Lan Zhanggui, an internet-based all-in-one platform which integrates several of our existing online platforms and allows our agents to access and purchase a wide variety of insurance products, including life insurance, auto insurance, accident insurance, travel insurance and standard health insurance products from multiple insurance companies on their mobile devices. In the next few years, we intend to continue to devote resources to maintaining and improving the technology and content of our existing online and mobile initiatives. However, our efforts to develop our mobile and online platforms may not be successful or yield the benefits that we anticipate. In addition, our expansion may depend on a number of factors, many of which are beyond our control, including but not limited to:
|●||the effectiveness of our marketing campaigns to build brand recognition among consumers and our ability to attract and retain customers;|
|●||the acceptance of third-party e-commerce platforms as an effective channel for underwriters to distribute their insurance products;|
|●||the acceptance of Lan Zhanggui and CNpad Auto as effective tools by sales agents;|
public concerns over security of e-commerce transactions and confidentiality of information;
|●||increased competition from insurance companies which directly sell insurance products through their own websites, call centers, portal websites which provide insurance product information and links to insurance companies’ websites, and other professional insurance intermediary companies which may launch independent websites in the future;|
further improvement in our information technology system designed to facilitate smoother online transactions; and
|●||further development and changes in applicable rules and regulations which may increase our operating costs and expenses, impede the execution of our business plan or change the competitive landscape.|
On July 22, 2015, the China Insurance Regulatory Commission, or CIRC, promulgated the Interim Measures for the Supervision of Internet Insurance Business, or Interim Measures, which became effective on November 1, 2015, and sets forth the qualifications and procedures for insurance intermediaries to operate internet insurance businesses in China. As advised by our PRC counsel, we have obtained the necessary approvals and licenses and our operations meet the qualification requirements of the Interim Measures. Since online insurance distribution has emerged only recently in China and is evolving rapidly, the Chinese Banking and Insurance Regulatory Committee, or CBIRC may promulgate and implement new rules and regulations to govern this sector from time to time. On December 13, 2019, the CBIRC published a Draft Measures on the Supervision of Internet Insurance Business to seek public opinions, or the Draft Measures, which intends to replace the Interim Measures. The Draft Measures provides clarity on the qualifications of entities which are allowed to operate online insurance business and sets higher requirements on entities which intend to engage in online insurance business. For example, the Draft Measures requires that both insurance institutions and their self-operated online platforms shall obtain ICP licenses or make ICP filing. According to the Draft Measures, “self-operated online platform” refers to the information system established by an insurance institution for the purpose of engaging in internet insurance business and does not include any online platform established by the branch or affiliate of an insurance institution We operate part of our online insurance distribution business through www.baoxian.com. Currently, our wholly-owned subsidiary Shenzhen Baowang E-Commerce Co., Ltd., or Shenzhen Baowang, owns the domain name of www.baoxian.com and holds an ICP license, which may be deemed non-compliant with new regulatory requirements once the Draft Measures is enacted since Shenzhen Baowang does not hold any insurance operating license although it is directly owned by Fanhua Century which holds a national insurance agency operating license. In addition, insurance institutions engaged in online insurance business shall have IT systems that are certified as Safety Level III Computer Information Systems, or Safety Level III. We are currently in the process of making rectification. Net revenues from Baowang (www.baoxian.com) accounted for 3.3% of our total net revenues in 2019. If we are not able to rectify non-compliance incidents on a timely basis and remain fully compliant, the business operation of Baowang could be suspended which may adversely impact our business results of operation.
In addition, the Draft Measures, if enacted, will also apply to insurance consultation and sales activities conducted by insurance institutions and their sales agents in the manners of offline face-to-face meetings, online communication, voice calls, telemarketing and/or media advertisement, with web links provided to potential insurance customers to complete the purchase and any other sales activities conducted through a combination of online and offline methods. The sales activities of our sales agents heavily rely on our mobile sales support applications, Lan Zhanggui and CNpad Auto, to engage with customers both online and offline and complete transaction processing online. If such sales activities are deemed internet insurance business, our operating entities of Lan Zhanggui and CNpad Atuo would be subject to the same regulatory requirements under the Draft Measures as imposed on Shenzhen Baowang. Specifically, the operating entities of Lan Zhanggui and CNpad APP may be required to hold both an insurance intermediary license, and an ICP license or make ICP filing, and their information systems would be required to obtain Safty Level III Certification. If we cannot obtain all necessary licenses and approval on a timely basis, our results of operation would be materially and adversely affected.
There are uncertainties with regard to how the changing laws, regulations and regulatory requirements would apply to our business. We cannot assure you that our operations will remain fully compliant with the changes in and further development of regulations applicable to us or we will be able to obtain the necessary approvals and licenses as required in a timely manner.
Any failure to successfully identify the risks as part of our expansion into the online and mobile insurance distribution business may have a material adverse impact on our growth, business prospects and results of operations, which could lead to a decline in the price of our ADSs.
All of our personnel engaging in insurance agency, or claims adjusting activities are required under relevant PRC regulations to register with the CBIRC’s Insurance Intermediaries Regulatory Information System and obtain a Practice Certificate issued by the insurance company or insurance intermediary to which he or she belongs. If our sales personnel fail to register or obtain a Practice Certificate, our business may be materially and adversely affected.
All of our personnel who engage in insurance agency and claims adjusting activities are required under relevant PRC regulations to be registered with the CBIRC’s Insurance Intermediary Regulatory Information System, or the IIRIS, and obtain a “Practice Certificate” issued by the insurance company or insurance intermediary company to which he or she belongs. See “Item 4. Information on the Company — B. Business Overview — Regulation.” In addition, we understand that the CBIRC requires that every sales agent or claims adjustor to carry the Practice Certificate and other credentials showing specified information when conducting agency and claims adjusting activities. Under the relevant PRC regulations, such as the Measures for the Supervision and Administration of Insurance Sales Personnel issued in January 2013 and Provisions on the Supervision of Insurance Claims Adjusting Firms issued by the CIRC in February 2018, an insurance agency or claims adjusting firm that retains a personnel who has not obtained its Practice Certificate to engage in insurance intermediary activities may be subject to warning and fines ranging from RMB10,000 to RMB30,000 per intermediary by the CBIRC (formerly CIRC). On March 12, 2019, the CBIRC issued a Notice for Professional Insurance Intermediaries to Conduct the Verification of Sales Personnel’s Practice Registration, requiring all insurance intermediary institutions to properly register the information of their newly recruited sales personnel with the IIRIS and complete self-check and verification of the IIRIS registration of all existing sales personnel affiliated with them, by July 31, 2019. Certain of our subsidiaries have received fines for failure to register some of our sales personnel’s information with the IIRIS, which were not material to us. If the CBIRC continues to strictly enforce these regulations and the notice, and if a substantial portion of our sales force were found to have not obtained practice certificates, our business may be adversely affected. Moreover, we may be subject to fines and other administrative proceedings for the failure by our sales agents or sales representatives to register with the CBIRC and obtain the necessary practice certificates. Such fines or administrative proceedings could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Material changes in the regulatory environment could change the competitive landscape of our industry or require us to change the way we do business. The administration, interpretation and enforcement of the laws and regulations currently applicable to us could change rapidly. If we fail to comply with applicable laws and regulations, we may be subject to civil and criminal penalties or lose the ability to conduct our business.
We operate in a highly regulated industry. The laws and regulations applicable to us are evolving and may change rapidly, which could change the competitive environment of our industry significantly and cause us to lose some or all of our competitive advantages. For example, the PRC Insurance Law and related regulations were amended in 2002, 2009, 2014 and 2015. The 2015 amendments involved a number of significant changes to the regulatory regime, including eliminating the requirement for any insurance agent, broker or claims adjusting practitioners to obtain a qualification certificate issued by the CIRC. The elimination of the certificate requirement may result in an increase in competition for our business and in misconduct by sales or service personnel, in particularly sales misrepresentation. In addition, the general increase misconduct in the industry could potentially harm the reputation of the industry and have an adverse impact on our business.
In recent years, the CBIRC and its predecessor has increasingly tightened regulations and supervision of the Chinese insurance market. For example, on April 2, 2019, the CBIRC issued a Notice to Rectify the Irregularities in the Insurance Intermediary Market in 2019, requiring all insurance companies and insurance intermediaries to conduct self-check on various practices in violation of relevant regulations. Although we believe we have not had any material violations to date, we could be required to spend significant time and resources in complying with the requirement and the attention of our management team and key employees could be diverted to these efforts, which may adversely affect our business operations.
On July 10, 2017, the CIRC, the predecessor of CBIRC, promulgated the Interim Measures on Retrospective Management of Insurance Sales Behaviors, effective November 1, 2017 which required ancillary insurance agencies to take video and audio-recording, or double-recording for the sales of all insurance products that they facilitate and other insurance distribution channels to take double-recording for the sales of investment linked insurance products and for sale of life insurance products with a payment period of more than one year to the elderly of over 60 years old. On June 11, 2019, Jiangsu Branch of the CBIRC published the Notice on Deepening the Implementation of the Retrospective Management of Personal Insurance Sales Behaviors or the Notice, requiring all insurance companies and insurance intermediary companies to start double-recording process for all long-term personal insurance products in Jiangsu Province starting from October 1, 2019. Ningbo Branch of the CBIRC implemented similar rule in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province starting from January 1, 2020. Since the implementation of the rules, as substantially all of the life and health insurance products we distribute are long-term personal insurance products, our sales in these two regions have dropped substantially. Although the implementation of these rules have been temporarily suspended due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the resumption in the implementation of these rules will adversely impact our sales activities in these two regions and if similar rules are implemented nationwide, our compliance cost may be increased and our business and results of operations may be adversely affected.
On March 13, 2018, the CIRC and CBRC merged to form the CBIRC. The CBIRC has extensive authority to supervise and regulate the insurance industry in China. In exercising its authority, the CBIRC is given wide discretion, and the administration, interpretation and enforcement of the laws and regulations applicable to us involve uncertainties that could materially and adversely affect our business and results of operations. The People’s Bank of China and other government agencies may promulgate new rules governing online financial services. In July 2015, ten government agencies including the People’s Bank of China, the Ministry of Finance and CIRC promulgated a guidance letter on how to promote the healthy growth of internet financial services, which set forth the principles of supervision based on the rule of law, appropriate level of regulation, proper categorization, cooperation among different government agencies and promoting innovation. Not only may the laws and regulations applicable to us change rapidly, but also it may sometimes be unclear how they apply to our business. For example, the laws and regulations applicable to our online and mobile platforms may be unclear. Our products or services may be determined or alleged to be in violation of the applicable laws and regulations. Any failure of our products or services to comply with these laws and regulations could result in substantial civil or criminal liability, adversely affect demand for our services, invalidate all or a portion of our customer contracts, require us to change or terminate some of our businesses, require us to refund a portion of our services fees, or cause us to be disqualified from serving customers, and therefore could have a material and adverse effect on our business.
Although we have not had any material violations to date, we cannot assure you that our operations will always comply with the interpretation and enforcement of the laws and regulations implemented by the CBIRC. Any determination by a provincial or national government authority that our activities or those of our vendors or customers violate any of these laws could subject us to civil or criminal penalties, could require us to change or terminate some of our operations or business, or could disqualify us from providing services to insurance companies or other customers; and, thus could have an adverse effect on our business.
Our business could be negatively impacted if we are unable to adapt our services to regulatory changes in China.
China’s insurance regulatory regime is undergoing significant changes. Some of these changes and the further development of regulations applicable to us may result in additional restrictions on our activities or more intensive competition in this industry. For example, the CIRC, the predecessor of CBIRC, issued notices in September 2016 and May 2017 to further reinforce the regulation of life insurance products by requiring insurance companies to revise or improve the design of a number of insurance products. For instance, insurance companies are required to (i) increase the death benefit coverage for insurance products including individual term life insurance, individual endowment insurance and individual whole life insurance products, and (ii) seek CIRC approval for universal insurance products with a guaranteed interest rate of above 3%. CIRC also required that (i) whole life insurance, annuity insurance and care insurance products must not be designed as short-to-medium term products, (ii) the first payment of survival insurance benefits for endowment products and annuity products must only occur after five years since the policy has become effective, and the annual payment or partial payment must not exceed 20% of the paid premiums, and (iii) insurance companies must not design universal insurance products or investment-linked insurance products in the form of riders. These new requirements apply to a number of annuity products sold by us. As a result, sales of annuity products dropped significantly in 2018. Pursuant to a notice issued by the CBIRC in August 2019, insurance companies must seek approval for annuity insurance products with the assumed valuation interest rate of above 3.5%. In November 2019, the CBIRC requested 13 insurance companies to terminate the sales of their annuity insurance products with 4.025% interest rate by December 31, 2019. Several of our major insurance company partners have subsequently terminated their high-interest rate annuity products. While the cessation of higher interest-rate annuity products boosted the sales prior to the cessation, the sales of annuity products dropped substantially afterwards. Any change in regulatory requirements that make our products less attractive to consumers or disrupt product supply, our business results of operations could fluctuated significantly and be adversely affected.
Our financial results could be negatively impacted if we are unable to maintain the business volume of our insurance agency business after shifting our focus from property and casualty insurance products to life insurance products.
We have gradually shifted the focus of our insurance agency business from property and casualty insurance products to life insurance products since 2016. This shift was reflected in our financial results. Net revenues generated from our property and casualty insurance agency business decreased from RMB2,755.9 million in 2016, representing 67.5% of total net revenues, to RMB141.8 million (US$20.4 million) in 2019, representing 3.8% of total net revenues. Net revenues generated from our life insurance business increased from RMB990.5 million in 2016, representing 24.3% of total net revenues, to RMB3,193.6 million (US$458.7 million) in 2019, representing 86.2% of total net revenues.
The markets for our insurance agency business are rapidly evolving and are subject to significant challenges. Our business plan relies heavily upon a stable existing customer base and our ability to expand such customer base. While we continue to adjust our business to adapt to market trends and satisfy the needs of our customers, it may be difficult to evaluate our business and growth prospects, and we may not succeed in any of these efforts. In addition, we face intense competition from other insurance intermediaries that distribute life insurance products, as well as other insurance companies and financial institutions that sell life insurance products directly to customers in China. If we are not able to adapt to and respond to these increasingly competitive pressures after shifting the focus of our insurance agency segment to life insurance products, our growth may slow down, which could materially and adversely affect our earnings.
We may be unsuccessful in identifying and acquiring suitable acquisition targets, which could adversely affect our growth.
We may pursue acquisition of companies that can complement our existing business, diversify our product offerings and improve our customers’ experience in the future. However, there is no assurance that we can successfully identify suitable acquisition candidates. Even if we identify suitable candidates, we may not be able to complete an acquisition on terms that are commercially acceptable to us. Our competitors may be able to outbid us for these acquisition targets. If we are unable to complete acquisitions, our growth strategy may be impeded and our earnings or revenue growth may be negatively affected.
Competition in our industry is intense and, if we are unable to compete effectively with both existing and new market participants, we may lose customers and our financial results may be negatively affected.
The insurance intermediary industry in China is highly competitive, and we expect competition to persist and intensify as more technology companies and other online insurance intermediaries enter the market. In insurance product distribution, we face competition from insurance companies that use their in-house sales force, exclusive sales agents, telemarketing and internet channels to distribute their products, from business entities that distribute insurance products on an ancillary basis, such as commercial banks, postal offices and automobile dealerships, as well as from other traditional or online insurance intermediaries. In our claims adjusting business, we primarily compete with other independent claims adjusting firms. We compete for customers on the basis of product offerings, customer services and reputation. Many of our competitors, both existing and newly emerging, have greater financial and marketing resources than we do and may be able to offer products and services that we do not currently offer and may not offer in the future. If we are unable to compete effectively against those competitors, we may lose customers and our financial results may be negatively affected.
Because the commission and fee we earn on the sale of insurance products is based on premiums, commission and fee rates set by insurance companies, any decrease in these premiums, commission or fee rates may have an adverse effect on our results of operations.
We are engaged in the life insurance, property and casualty insurance and claims adjusting businesses and derive revenues primarily from commissions and fees paid by the insurance companies whose policies our customers purchase and to whom we provide claims adjusting services. Our commission and fee rates are set by insurance companies and are based on the premiums that the insurance companies charge or the amount recovered by insurance companies. Commission and fee rates and premiums can change based on the prevailing economic, regulatory, taxation-related and competitive factors that affect insurance companies. These factors, which are not within our control, include the ability of insurance companies to place new business, underwriting and non-underwriting profits of insurance companies, consumer demand for insurance products, the availability of comparable products from other insurance companies at a lower cost, the availability of alternative insurance products such as government benefits and self-insurance plans, as well as the tax deductibility of commissions and fees and the consumers themselves. In addition, premium rates for certain insurance products, such as the mandatory automobile liability insurance that each automobile owner in the PRC is legally required to purchase, are tightly regulated by CBIRC.
Because we do not determine, and cannot predict, the timing or extent of premium or commission and fee rate changes, we cannot predict the effect any of these changes may have on our operations. Any decrease in premiums or commission and fee rates may significantly affect our profitability. In addition, our budget for future acquisitions, capital expenditures and other expenditures may be disrupted by unexpected decreases in revenues caused by decreases in premiums or commission and fee rates, thereby adversely affecting our operations.
Quarterly and annual variations in our commission and fee revenue may unexpectedly impact our results of operations.
Our commission and fee revenue is subject to both quarterly and annual fluctuations as a result of the seasonality of our business, the timing of policy renewals and the net effect of new and lost business. During any given year, our commission and fee revenue derived from distribution of property and casualty insurance products is highest during the fourth quarter and is lowest during the first quarter. Life insurance commission revenue is usually the highest in the first quarter and lowest in the fourth quarter of any given year as much of the jumpstart sales activities of life insurance companies occurs in January and February during which life insurance companies would increase their sales efforts by offering more incentives for insurance agents and insurance intermediaries to increase sales, while the preparation for the jumpstart sales starts in the fourth quarter of each year. This general seasonality trend is expected to be affected by the recent COVID-19 outbreak, which is expected to reduce our first year life insurance commission revenue during the first quarter of 2020. The factors that cause the quarterly and annual variations are not within our control. Specifically, regulatory changes to product design may result in cessation of products from time to time and cause quarterly fluctuation in the results of our operations. In addition, consumer demand for insurance products can influence the timing of renewals, new business and lost business, which generally includes policies that are not renewed, and cancellations. As a result, you may not be able to rely on quarterly or annual comparisons of our operating results as an indication of our future performance.
Our operating structure may make it difficult to respond quickly to operational or financial problems, which could negatively affect our financial results.
We currently operate through our wholly-owned or majority-owned insurance agencies and claims adjusting firms and their branches located in 31 provinces in China. These companies report their results to our corporate headquarters monthly. If these companies delay either reporting results or informing corporate headquarters of negative business developments such as losses of relationships with insurance companies, regulatory inquiries or any other negative events, we may not be able to take action to remedy the situation in a timely fashion. This in turn could have a negative effect on our financial results. In addition, if one of these companies were to report inaccurate financial information, we might not learn of the inaccuracies on a timely basis and be able to take corrective measures promptly, which could negatively affect our ability to report our financial results.
Our future success depends on the continuing efforts of our senior management team and other key personnel, and our business may be harmed if we lose their services.
Our future success depends heavily upon the continuing services of the members of our senior management team and other key personnel, in particular, Mr. Chunlin Wang, or Mr. Wang, our chairman of the board of directors and chief executive officer, and Mr. Peng Ge, or, Mr. Ge, our chief financial officer. If one or more of our senior executives or other key personnel, are unable or unwilling to continue in their present positions, we may not be able to replace them easily, or at all. As such, our business may be disrupted and our financial condition and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected. Competition for senior management and key personnel in our industry is intense because of a number of factors including the limited pool of qualified candidates. We may not be able to retain the services of our senior executives or key personnel, or attract and retain high-quality senior executives or key personnel in the future. As is customary in the PRC, we do not have insurance coverage for the loss of our senior management team or other key personnel.
In addition, if any member of our senior management team or any of our other key personnel joins a competitor or forms a competing company, we may lose customers, sensitive trade information, key professionals and staff members. Each of our executive officers and key employees has entered into an employment agreement with us which contains confidentiality and non-competition provisions. These agreements generally have an initial term of three years, and are automatically extended for successive one-year terms unless terminated earlier pursuant to the terms of the agreement. See “Item 6. Directors, Senior Management and Employees — A. Directors and Senior Management — Employment Agreements” for a more detailed description of the key terms of these employment agreements. If any disputes arise between any of our senior executives or key personnel and us, we cannot assure you of the extent to which any of these agreements may be enforced.
Salesperson and employee misconduct is difficult to detect and deter and could harm our reputation or lead to regulatory sanctions or litigation costs.
Salesperson and employee misconduct could result in violations of law by us, regulatory sanctions, litigation or serious reputational or financial harm. Misconduct could include:
|●||making misrepresentations when marketing or selling insurance to customers;|
|●||hindering insurance applicants from making full and accurate mandatory disclosures or inducing applicants to make misrepresentations;|
|●||hiding or falsifying material information in relation to insurance contracts;|
|●||fabricating or altering insurance contracts without authorization from relevant parties, selling false policies, or providing false documents on behalf of the applicants;|
|●||falsifying insurance agency business or fraudulently returning insurance policies to obtain commissions;|
|●||colluding with applicants, insureds, or beneficiaries to obtain insurance benefits;|
|●||engaging in false claims; or|
|●||otherwise not complying with laws and regulations or our control policies or procedures.|
On April 24, 2015, the PRC Insurance Law was amended and consequently on December 3, 2015, the CIRC amended the Provisions on the Supervision of Professional Insurance Agencies, the Provisions on the Supervision of Insurance Brokerages and the Provisions on the Supervision of Insurance Claims Adjusting Firms. These amendments have made a number of significant changes to the regulatory regime, including eliminating the requirement for an insurance agent, broker or claims adjusting practitioner to obtain a qualification certificate issued by the CIRC. The elimination of the certificate requirement may result in an increase in misconduct by sales or service persons, in particularly sales misrepresentation. We have internal policies and procedures to deter salesperson or employee misconduct. However, the measures and precautions we take to prevent and detect these activities may not be effective in all cases. Therefore, salesperson or employee misconduct could lead to a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations or financial condition. In addition, the general increase in misconduct in the industry could potentially harm the reputation of the industry and have an adverse impact on our business.
Our investments in certain financial products may not yield the benefits we anticipate or incur financial loss, which could adversely affect our cash position.
In order to improve our return on capital, we may from time to time, upon board approval, invest certain portion of our cash in financial products, such as trust products, with terms of half a year to two years. These products may involve various risks, including default risks, interest risks, and other risks. We cannot guarantee these investments will yield the returns we anticipate and we could suffer financial loss resulting from the purchase of these financial products.
If we fail to maintain an effective system of internal control over financial reporting, we may not be able to accurately report our financial results or prevent fraud.
We are subject to reporting obligations under U.S. securities laws. Pursuant to Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and the related rules adopted by the Securities and Exchange Commission, or the SEC, every public company is required to include a management report on the company’s internal controls over financial reporting in its annual report, which contains management’s assessment of the effectiveness of the company’s internal controls over financial reporting. In addition, an independent registered public accounting firm must attest to and report on the effectiveness of the company’s internal controls over financial reporting.
As required by Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and related rules as promulgated by the SEC, our management assessed the effectiveness of the internal control over financial reporting as of December 31, 2019 using criteria established in “Internal Control — Integrated Framework (2013)” issued by the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission and concluded that our internal control over financial reporting was effective as of December 31, 2019. Previously, our management concluded that our internal control over financial reporting was not effective as of December 31, 2018 due to the identification of a material weakness, which was that management review controls designed to address risks associated with complex accounting matters that arise from significant nonroutine transactions to ensure that those transactions are properly accounted for in accordance with U.S. GAAP did not operate effectively. Management took corrective actions for the weakness and implemented procedures to address such weakness during the fiscal year of 2019, concluding that these measures were fully implemented and the material weakness were fully remedied during 2019. See “Item 15. Controls and Procedures.” “Management’s Remediation Plans and Actions” for measures that we have implemented to address this material weakness in our internal control over financial reporting.
Although the material weakness in our internal control over financial reporting as described above has been fully remedied during 2019 and our internal control over financial reporting as of December 31, 2019 was concluded to be effective, there is no assurance that we will be able to maintain effective internal control over financial reporting in the future. If we fail to do so, we may not be able to produce reliable financial reports and prevent fraud. Failure to correct a material weakness or failure to discover and address any other control deficiencies could result in inaccuracies in our consolidated financial statements and could also impair our ability to comply with applicable financial reporting requirements and make related regulatory filings on a timely basis. As a result, our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects, as well as the trading price of our ADSs, may be materially and adversely affected. Moreover, if we are not able to conclude that we have effective internal control over financial reporting, investors may lose confidence in the reliability of our financial statements, which would negatively impact the trading price of our ADSs. Our reporting obligations as a public company, including our efforts to comply with Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, will continue to place a significant strain on our management, operational and financial resources and systems for the foreseeable future.
We may face legal action by former employers or principals of entrepreneurial agents who join our distribution and service network.
Competition for productive sales agents is intense within the Chinese insurance industry. When an entrepreneurial agent leaves his or her employer or principal to join our distribution and service network as our sales agent, we may face legal action by his or her former employer or principal of the entrepreneurial agent on the ground of unfair competition or breach of contract. As of the date of this annual report, there has been no such action filed or threatened against us. We cannot assure you that this will not happen in the future. Any such legal actions, regardless of merit, could be expensive and time-consuming and could divert resources and management’s attention from the operation of our business. If we were found liable in such a legal action, we might be required to pay substantial damages to the former employer or principal of the entrepreneurial agent, and our business reputation might be harmed. Moreover, the filing of such a legal action may discourage potential entrepreneurial agents from leaving their employers or principals, thus reducing the number of entrepreneurial agents we can recruit and potentially harming our growth prospects.
If we are required to write down goodwill and other intangible assets, our financial condition and results may be materially and adversely affected.
When we acquire a business, the amount of the purchase price that is allocated to goodwill and other intangible assets is determined by the excess of the fair value of purchase price and any controlling interest over the net identifiable tangible assets acquired. As of December 31, 2019, goodwill represented RMB109.9 million (US$15.8 million), or 5.7% of our total shareholders’ equity, while other net intangible assets represented less than 0.1% of our total shareholders’ equity. Our management performs impairment assessment annually and we did not recognize any impairment loss between 2015 and 2019. Under current accounting standards, if we determine that goodwill or intangible assets are impaired, we will be required to write down the value of such assets and recognize corresponding impairment charges. As we implement our growth strategy through acquisitions, goodwill and intangible assets may comprise an increasingly larger percentage of our shareholders’ equity. As such, any write-down related to such goodwill and intangible assets may adversely and materially affect our shareholders’ equity and financial results.
Any significant failure in our information technology systems could have a material adverse effect on our business and profitability.
Our business is highly dependent on the ability of our information technology systems to timely process a large number of transactions across different markets and products at a time when transaction processes have become increasingly complex and the volume of such transactions is growing rapidly. The proper functioning of our financial control, accounting, customer database, customer service and other data processing systems, together with the communication systems of our various subsidiaries and our main offices in Guangzhou, is critical to our business and our ability to compete effectively. Our business activities could be materially disrupted in the event of a partial or complete failure of any of these primary information technology or communication systems, which could be caused by, among other things, software malfunction, computer virus attacks or conversion errors due to system upgrading. In addition, a prolonged failure of our information technology system could damage our reputation and materially and adversely affect our future prospects and profitability.
We may face potential liability, loss of customers and damage to our reputation for any failure to protect the confidential information of our customers.
Our customer database holds confidential information concerning our customers. We may be unable to prevent third parties, such as hackers or criminal organizations, from stealing information provided by our customers to us. Confidential information of our customers may also be misappropriated or inadvertently disclosed through employee misconduct or mistake. We may also in the future be required to disclose to government authorities certain confidential information concerning our customers.
In addition, many of our customers pay for our insurance services through third-party online payment services. In such transactions, maintaining complete security during the transmission of confidential information, such as personal information, is essential to maintaining consumer confidence. We have limited influence over the security measures of third-party online payment service providers. In addition, our third-party merchants may violate their confidentiality obligations and disclose information about our customers. Any compromise of our security or third-party service providers’ security could have a material adverse effect on our reputation, business, prospects, financial condition and results of operations.
Though we have not experienced any material cybersecurity incidents in the past, if our database were compromised by outside sources or if we are accused of failing to protect the confidential information of our customers, we may be forced to expend significant financial and managerial resources in remedying the situation, defending against these accusations and we may face potential liability. Any negative publicity, especially concerning breaches in our cybersecurity systems, may adversely affect our public image and reputation. Though we take proactive measures to protect against these risks and we believe that our efforts in this area are sufficient for our business, we cannot be certain that such measures will prove effective against all cybersecurity risks. In addition, any perception by the public that online commerce is becoming increasingly unsafe or that the privacy of customer information is vulnerable to attack could inhibit the growth of online services generally, which in turn may reduce the number of our customers.
Our business is subject to supplier concentration risks arising from dependence on a single or limited number of suppliers.
We derive a significant portion of net revenues from distributing insurance products supplied by our important insurance company partners. Among the top five of our insurance company partners, each of Huaxia, Aeon, Sinatay and Tian’an contributed more than 10% of our total net revenues from continuing operations in 2019, with Huaxia accounting for 23.8%, Aeon accounting for 18.3%, Sinatay accounting for 16.1% and Tian’an accounting for 12.1%.
Because of this concentration in the supply of the insurance products we distribute, our business and operations would be negatively affected if we experience a partial or complete loss of any of these suppliers. In addition, any significant adverse change in our relationship with any of these suppliers could result in loss of revenue, increased costs and distribution delays that could harm our business and customer relationships. In addition, this concentration can exacerbate our exposure to risks associated with the termination by key insurance company partners of our agreements or any adverse change in the terms of such agreements, which could have an adverse impact on our revenues and profitability.
If we are unable to respond in a timely and cost-effective manner to rapid technological change in the insurance intermediary industry, it may result in a material adverse effect.
The insurance industry is increasingly influenced by rapid technological change, frequent new product and service introductions and evolving industry standards. For example, the insurance intermediary industry has increased the use of the Internet to communicate benefits and related information to consumers and to facilitate information exchange, transactions and training. We believe that our future success will depend on our ability to anticipate and adapt to technological changes and to offer additional products and services that meet evolving standards on a timely and cost-effective manner. We may not be able to successfully identify new product and service opportunities or develop and introduce these opportunities in a timely and cost-effective manner. In addition, new products and services that our competitors develop or introduce may render our products and services uncompetitive. As a result, if we are not able to respond or adapt to technological changes that may affect our industry in the future, our business and results of operations could be materially and adversely affected.
We face risks related to health epidemics, including the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, severe weather conditions and other catastrophes, which could materially and adversely affect our business.
Our business could be materially and adversely affected by the outbreak of novel coronavirus, avian flu, severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, another health epidemic, severe weather conditions or other catastrophes. In January and February 2008, a series of severe winter storms afflicted extensive damages and significantly disrupted people’s lives in large portions of southern and central China. In May 2008, an earthquake measuring 8.0 on the Richter scale hit Sichuan Province in southwestern China, causing huge casualties and property damages. In April 2009, influenza A (H1N1) commonly referred to as “swine flu” was first discovered in North America and quickly spread to other parts of the world, including China. In February 2013, H7N9 Avian influenza was first discovered in Shanghai, China and quickly widened its geographical spread in China.
In December 2019, a novel strain of coronavirus, referred to as Coronavirus Disease 2019, or COVID-19, first surfaced in China and quickly spread to other countries. The PRC government has taken various precautionary measures to contain the spread of the COVID-19, including extending the Chinese New Year Holiday into February 2020, restricting travel, suspending transportation and banning gatherings. Our business operations rely heavily on the efforts of individual sales agents and claims adjustors. Although we have moved all training and marketing activities online to mitigate the impact, the limited ability of our sales personnel to interact with customers face-to-face as result of the social distance measures has hindered the sales activities of our sales force, which has had an adverse impact on our operating results of the first quarter of 2020 and the operating income for the first quarter of 2020 is expected to significantly decrease on a year-over-year basis. Such social distance measures to contain the spread of the COVID-19 is expected to continue to have an adverse effect on our operating results in the near-to-medium-term. The COVID-19 outbreak has adversely impacted business operation of companies in a variety of industries. The business operation of our non-consolidated affiliated investees has also been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak which will affect the fair value of our investment in affiliates. The extent to which the COVID-19 outbreak will continue to impact our results will depend on its future developments, which are highly uncertain and cannot be predicted, including new information which may emerge concerning the severity of this disease and the actions to contain the disease or treat its impact, among others.
In addition, any occurrence of other adverse public health developments or recurrence of avian flu or SARS, H1N1 and Zika Virus, severe weather conditions such as the massive snow storms in January and February 2008 and other catastrophes such as the Sichuan earthquake may also significantly disrupt our staffing and otherwise reduce the activity level of our work force, thus causing a material and adverse effect on our business operations.
We may be at risk of securities class action litigation.
Historically, securities class action litigation has often been brought against a company following periods of instability in the market price of its securities. If we face such litigation, it could result in substantial costs and a diversion of management’s attention and resources, which could harm our business.
Between August 2018 and February 2019, three short-selling focused firm issued short-sell thesis reports which we believe contain false and misleading information about our strategy, business model and financials and caused the trading price of our ADSs to fluctuate significantly. Following the issuance of one of the reports, a shareholder class action lawsuit was filed against the Company in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, or the Court. In March 2020, the Court granted in its entirety our motion to dismiss the class action lawsuit and closed the case.
Recently, U.S. public companies that have substantially all of their operations in China, have been the subject of intense scrutiny, criticism and negative publicity by some investors, financial commentators and regulatory agencies. Much of the scrutiny, criticism and negative publicity has centered around financial and accounting irregularities, a lack of effective internal controls over financial accounting, inadequate corporate governance policies or a lack of adherence thereto and, in some cases, allegations of fraud. As a result of the scrutiny, criticism and negative publicity, the publicly traded stocks of many U.S.-listed Chinese companies has sharply decreased in value and, in some cases, has become virtually worthless. Some of these companies are now subject to shareholder lawsuits and SEC enforcement actions and are conducting or subject to internal and external investigations into the allegations. Shortselling firms or others may in the future publish additional short seller reports with respect to our business, officers, directors and shareholders, and we may become subject to other unfavorable allegations, which might cause further fluctuations in the trading price of our ADSs. Such volatility in our share price could subject us to increased risk of securities class action lawsuits or derivative actions.
Any future class action lawsuit against us, whether or not successful, could harm our reputation and restrict our ability to raise capital. In addition, if a claim is successfully made against us, we may be required to pay significant damages, which could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations. Even if such allegations are ultimately proven to be groundless, the allegations or the process of dealing with them could severely impact our business operations and stockholder’s equity, and any investment in our ADSs could be greatly reduced.
We may be subject, from time to time, to adverse actions taken by other parties, including lawsuits and negative reports and regulatory proceedings, which may divert resources and the time and attention of our management and may otherwise adversely affect us.
From time to time, we may become a party to litigations incidental to the operation of our business, including class action lawsuits and disputes with other third parties. Litigation usually requires a significant amount of management time and effort, which may adversely affect our business by diverting management’s focus from the needs of our business and the development of strategic opportunities.
We cannot predict the outcome of these lawsuits. Regardless of the outcome, these lawsuits, and any other litigation that may be brought against us or our current or former directors and officers, could be time-consuming, result in significant expenses and divert the attention and resources of our management and other key employees. An unfavorable outcome in any of these matters could also exceed coverage provided under applicable insurance policies, which is limited. Any such unfavorable outcome could have a material effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows. Further, we could be required to pay damages or additional penalties or have other remedies imposed against us, or our current or former directors or officers, which could harm our reputation, business, financial condition, results of operations or cash flows.
In addition, the CBIRC may from time to time make inquiries and conduct examinations concerning our compliance with PRC laws and regulations. These administrative proceedings have in the past resulted in administrative sanctions, including fines, which have not been material to us. While we cannot predict the outcome of any pending or future examination, we do not believe that any pending legal matter will have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition or results of operations. However, we cannot assure you that any future regulatory proceeding will not have an adverse outcome, which could have a material adverse effect on our operating results or cash flows.
Risks Related to Our Corporate Structure
If the PRC government finds that the structure for operating part of our China business does not comply with applicable PRC laws and regulations, we could be subject to severe penalties.
Historically, PRC laws and regulations have restricted foreign investment in and ownership of insurance intermediary companies. As a result, we conducted our insurance intermediary business through contractual arrangements among our PRC subsidiaries, consolidated affiliated entities including Meidiya Investment, Yihe Investment, Xinbao Investment and Dianliang Information and their individual shareholders between December 2005 and May 2016.
In recent years, some rules and regulations governing the insurance intermediary sector in China have begun to encourage foreign investment. For instance, under the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement, or CEPA, Supplement IV signed in June 29, 2007 and CEPA Supplement VIII signed on December 13, 2011, between the PRC Ministry of Commerce and the governments of Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Region, local insurance agencies in Hong Kong and Macao are allowed to set up wholly-owned insurance agency companies in Guangdong Province if they meet certain threshold requirements. On December 26, 2007, the CIRC issued an Announcement on the Establishment of Wholly-owned Insurance Agencies in Mainland China by Hong Kong and Macao Insurance Agencies, which sets forth specific qualification criteria for implementation purposes. On August 26, 2010, the CIRC released a Circular on the Cancellation of the Fifth Batch of Administrative Approval Items, pursuant to which foreign ownership in a professional insurance intermediary in excess of 25% only requires a filing to be made with the relevant authorities and no longer requires prior approval. On March 1, 2015, the National Development and Reform Commission and Ministry of Commerce jointly issued the Catalogue for the Guidance of Foreign Investment Industries (Revision 2015), or the CGFII 2015 Revision, pursuant to which insurance brokerage firms are removed from the list of industries subject to foreign investment restriction.
We operate our online insurance distribution business through Baoxian.com which was subject to foreign investment restrictions. Foreign investors are not allowed to own more than 50% of the equity interests in a value-added telecommunications service provider (except for e-commerce, domestic multi-party communication, storage and forwarding classes and call centers) under the Special Administrative Measures for Access of Foreign Investment (Negative List) (2019 Edition), which was promulgated on June 30, 2019 and implemented on July 30, 2019. However, on June 19, 2015, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology published a Notice on Removing the Foreign Ownership Restriction in Online Data Processing and Transaction Processing Business (Operating E-commerce), or the No. 196 Notice. Foreign ownership in online data processing and transaction process business is allowed to increase to 100% as long as the foreign-invested entities obtain necessary licenses to conduct the business. However, there remains uncertainty with regards to the implementation of the No. 196 Notice and the administrative procedures with regards to the application of the data processing and transaction process business licenses.
Following the changes in applicable foreign investment regulations, we commenced a restructuring of our company in October 2011 and subsequently terminated all the contractual arrangements among our PRC subsidiaries and consolidated entities such as Meidiya Investment and Yihe Investment, which became our wholly-owned subsidiaries in 2015 and Xinbao Investment and Dianliang Information, which became our wholly-owned subsidiaries in 2016. As a result, we obtained direct controlling or significant equity ownership in each of our insurance intermediary companies and our online platforms in 2016. See “Item 4. Information on the Company — C. Organizational Structure.”
If our online insurance business operated through Baoxian.com is treated as value-added telecommunication service other than e-commerce business by relevant authorities, our direct ownership of our online platforms may be in violation of any existing or future PRC laws or regulations, or if our online platforms fail to obtain or maintain any of the required permits or approvals, the relevant PRC regulatory authorities, including the CBIRC (formerly CIRC), will have broad discretion in dealing with such violations, including:
|●||revoking the business and operating licenses of our PRC subsidiaries;|
|●||restricting or prohibiting any related-party transactions among our PRC subsidiaries;|
|●||imposing fines or other requirements with which we, our PRC subsidiaries may not be able to comply;|
|●||requiring us, our PRC subsidiaries to restructure the relevant ownership structure or operations; or|
|●||restricting or prohibiting us from providing additional funding for our business and operations in China.|
Any of these or similar actions could cause disruptions to our business, as well as reduce our revenues, profitability and cash flows.
PRC regulation of loans and direct investment by offshore holding companies to PRC entities may delay or prevent us from making loans to our PRC subsidiaries or making additional capital contributions to our PRC subsidiaries, which could materially and adversely affect our liquidity and our ability to fund and expand our business.
We are an offshore holding company conducting our operations in China through PRC subsidiaries in order to provide additional funding to our PRC subsidiaries, we may make loans to our PRC subsidiaries, or we may make additional capital contributions to our PRC subsidiaries.
Any loans we make to any of our directly-held PRC subsidiaries (which are treated as foreign-invested enterprises under PRC law), namely, Fanhua Zhonglian Enterprise Image Planning (Shenzhen) Co., Ltd., or Zhonglian Enterprise, and Fanhua Xinlian Information Technology Consulting (Shenzhen) Co., Ltd., or Xinlian Information, cannot exceed statutory limits and must be registered with the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, or the SAFE, or its local counterparts. Under applicable PRC law, the Chinese regulators must approve the amount of a foreign-invested enterprise’s registered capital, which represents shareholders’ equity investments over a defined period of time, and the foreign-invested enterprise’s total investment, which represents the total of the company’s registered capital plus permitted loans. The registered capital/total investment ratio cannot be lower than the minimum statutory requirement and the excess of the total investment over the registered capital represents the maximum amount of borrowings that a foreign-invested enterprise is permitted to have under PRC law. Our directly-held PRC subsidiaries were allowed to incur a total of HK$300 million (US$38.7 million) in foreign debts as of March 31, 2020. If we were to provide loans to our directly-held PRC subsidiaries in excess of the above amount, we would have to apply to the relevant government authorities for an increase in their permitted total investment amounts. The various applications could be time-consuming and their outcomes would be uncertain. Concurrently with the loans, we might have to make capital contributions to these subsidiaries in order to maintain the statutory minimum registered capital/total investment ratio, and such capital contributions involve uncertainties of their own, as discussed below. Furthermore, even if we make loans to our directly-held PRC subsidiaries that do not exceed their current maximum amount of borrowings, we will have to register each loan with the SAFE or its local counterpart within 15 days after the signing of the relevant loan agreement. Subject to the conditions stipulated by the SAFE, the SAFE or its local counterpart will issue a registration certificate of foreign debts to us within 20 days after reviewing and accepting our application. In practice, it may take longer to complete such SAFE registration process.
Any loans we make to any of our indirectly-held PRC subsidiaries (those PRC subsidiaries which we hold indirectly through Zhonglian Enterprise and Xinlian Information), all of which are treated as PRC domestic companies rather than foreign-invested enterprises under PRC law, are also subject to various PRC regulations and approvals. Under applicable PRC regulations, medium- and long-term international commercial loans to PRC domestic companies are subject to approval by the National Development and Reform Commission. Short-term international commercial loans to PRC domestic companies are subject to the balance control system effected by the SAFE. Due to the above restrictions, we are not likely to make loans to any of our indirectly-held PRC subsidiaries.
Any capital contributions we make to our PRC subsidiaries, including directly-held and indirectly-held PRC subsidiaries, must be approved by the PRC Ministry of Commerce or its local counterparts, and registered with the SAFE or its local counterparts. Such applications and registrations could be time consuming and their outcomes would be uncertain.
We cannot assure you that we will be able to complete the necessary government registrations or obtain the necessary government approvals on a timely basis, if at all, with respect to future loans by us to our PRC subsidiaries, or with respect to future capital contributions by us to our PRC subsidiaries. If we fail to complete such registrations or obtain such approvals, our ability to capitalize or otherwise fund our PRC operations may be negatively affected, which could adversely and materially affect our liquidity and our ability to fund and expand our business.
On August 29, 2008, SAFE promulgated Circular 142, a notice regulating the conversion by a foreign-invested company of its capital contribution in foreign currency into RMB. The notice requires that the capital of a foreign-invested company settled in RMB converted from foreign currencies shall be used only for purposes within the business scope as approved by the authorities in charge of foreign investment or by other government authorities and as registered with the State Administration for Industry and Commerce and, unless set forth in the business scope or in other regulations, may not be used for equity investments within the PRC. In addition, SAFE strengthened its oversight of the flow and use of the capital of a foreign-invested company settled in RMB converted from foreign currencies. The use of such RMB capital may not be changed without SAFE’s approval, and may not in any case be used to repay RMB loans if the proceeds of such loans have not been used. Violations of Circular 142 will result in severe penalties, including heavy fines. As a result, Circular 142 may significantly limit our ability to provide additional funding to our PRC subsidiaries through our directly-held PRC subsidiaries in the PRC, which may adversely affect our ability to expand our business.
However, on March 30, 2015, SAFE promulgated Circular 19, a notice on reforming the administrative approach regarding the settlement of the foreign exchange capitals of foreign-invested enterprises, which became effective on June 1, 2015. The new notice states that foreign-invested enterprises shall be allowed to settle their foreign exchange capitals on a discretionary basis. The discretionary settlement by a foreign-invested enterprise of its foreign exchange capital shall mean that the foreign-invested enterprise may, according to its actual business needs, settle with a bank the portion of the foreign exchange capital in its capital account for which the relevant foreign exchange bureau has confirmed monetary contribution rights and interests (or for which the bank has registered the account-crediting of monetary contribution). For the time being, foreign-invested enterprises are allowed to settle 100% of their foreign exchange capitals on a discretionary basis. The SAFE may adjust the foregoing percentage as appropriate according to balance of payments situations. As a result, Circular 19 will relax the limitation of our ability to provide additional funding to our PRC subsidiaries through our directly-held PRC subsidiaries in the PRC.
Substantial uncertainties exist with respect to the enactment timetable, interpretation and implementation of the PRC Foreign Investment Law and how it may impact the viability of our corporate structure, corporate governance, business operations and financial results.
On March 15, 2019, the National People’s Congress approved the Foreign Investment Law, which will come into effect on January 1, 2020 and replace the trio of existing laws regulating foreign investment in China, namely, the Sino-foreign Equity Joint Venture Enterprise Law, the Sino-foreign Cooperative Joint Venture Enterprise Law and the Wholly Foreign-invested Enterprise Law, together with their implementation rules and ancillary regulations. The Foreign Investment Law embodies an expected PRC regulatory trend to rationalize its foreign investment regulatory regime in line with prevailing international practice and the legislative efforts to unify the corporate legal requirements for both foreign and domestic investments. However, since it is relatively new, uncertainties still exist in relation to its interpretation and implementation. For instance, under the Foreign Investment Law, “foreign investment” refers to the investment activities directly or indirectly conducted by foreign individuals, enterprises or other entities in China. Though it does not explicitly classify contractual arrangements as a form of foreign investment, foreign investment via contractual arrangements could be interpreted as a type of indirect foreign investment activities under the definition. In addition, the definition contains a catch-all provision which includes investments made by foreign investors through means stipulated in laws or administrative regulations or other methods prescribed by the State Council. Therefore, it still leaves leeway for future laws, administrative regulations or provisions promulgated by the State Council to provide for contractual arrangements as a form of foreign investment. In any of these cases, it will be uncertain whether our contractual arrangements will be deemed to be in violation of the requirements for foreign investment under PRC laws and regulations.
If our control over our variable interest entities, or VIEs, through contractual arrangements are deemed as foreign investment in the future, and any business of our VIEs is restricted or prohibited from foreign investment at the time, we may be deemed to be in violation of the Foreign Investment Law, the contractual arrangements that allow us to have control over our VIEs may be deemed invalid and illegal, and we may be required to unwind such contractual arrangements and/or restructure our business operations. In addition, if future laws, administrative regulations or provisions prescribed by the State Council mandate further actions to be taken by companies with respect to existing contractual arrangements, we may face substantial uncertainties as to whether we can complete such actions in a timely manner, or at all. Failure to take timely and appropriate measures to cope with any of these or similar regulatory compliance challenges could materially and adversely affect our corporate structure, corporate governance, business operations and financial results.
Our variable interest entities or their respective shareholders and directors may fail to perform their obligations under our contractual arrangements with them.
Pursuant to the 521 Plan, we set up three companies, or the 521 Plan Employee Companies, which are Fanhua Employees Holdings Limited, Step Tall Limited and Treasure Chariot Limited, to hold the shares on behalf of the Participants. Each of the 521 Plan Employee Companies is a legal entity formed in the British Virgin Islands with a sole shareholder appointed by the Company. Mr. Yinan Hu and two other employees of the Company are the respective sole shareholder and director of the 521 Plan Employee Companies. Our ordinary shares are the only significant assets held by the 521 Plan Employee Companies, which serve as collateral to the loans issued by the Company to the Participants. Given the only substantial recourse to the loans issued by the Company are the ordinary shares of the Company, changes (principally decreases) in the value of the ordinary shares held by the 521 Plan Employee Companies will be indirectly absorbed by the Company and we have potential exposure to the economics of the 521 Plan Employee Companies. Therefore, we have variable interests in the 521 Plan Employee Companies. Since none of the 521 Plan Employee Companies’ equity investors have the obligation to absorb the expected losses or the right to receive the expected residual returns as (i) the depreciation of the ADS will be indirectly absorbed by the Company as discussed above and (ii) and the appreciation of the ADS will be absorbed by the Company or the Participants, as any residual proceeds from the sale of the ADS will revert to the Company or the Participants and not the shareholders of the 521 Plan Employee Companies. Therefore, the 521 Plan Employee Companies are deemed to be our consolidated variable interest entities, or VIEs.
Through loan agreements, entrusted share purchase agreements and letters of undertaking, we have the right to the 280,000,000 ordinary shares held by the 521 Plan Employee Companies as collateral to the loans issued to the Participants, and we have potential exposure to the economics of the 521 Plan Employee Companies resulting from the fluctuation in the value of the Company’s ADSs, which is more than insignificant. Therefore, we are deemed the primary beneficiary of the 521 Plan Employee Companies and consolidate them into our financial statements accordingly.
If the 521 Plan Employee Companies or their shareholders and directors fail to perform their respective obligations under the contractual arrangements, we may have to incur substantial costs and expend additional resources to enforce such arrangements. We may also have to rely on legal remedies under various legal jurisdictions, including seeking specific performance or injunctive relief, and claiming damages, which we cannot assure you will be effective under the relevant laws and regulations. For example, if the shareholders of the 521 Plan Employee Companies act in bad faith toward us, we may have to take legal action to compel them to perform their contractual obligations. In addition, if any third parties claim any interest in the equity interests of the 521 Plan Employee Companies, our ability to exercise shareholders’ rights or foreclose the shares pledged under the loan agreements with the Participants may be impaired. If these or other disputes between the shareholders and directors of the 521 Plan Employee Companies and third parties were to impair our control over the 521 Plan Employee Companies, our ability to consolidate the financial results of the 521 Plan Employee Companies would be affected, which would in turn materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
If we make equity compensation grants to persons who are PRC citizens, they may be required to register with SAFE. We may also face regulatory uncertainties that could restrict our ability to adopt additional equity compensation plans for our directors and employees and other parties under PRC law.
On February 15, 2012, the SAFE issued the “Notice of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange on Issues Related to Foreign Exchange Administration in Domestic Individuals’ Participation in Equity Incentive Plans of Companies Listed Abroad”, also known as “Circular 7”. Circular 7 covers all forms of equity compensation plans including employee stock ownership plans, employee stock option plans and other equity compensation plans permitted by relevant laws and regulations. For any plans that are so covered and are adopted by a non-PRC listed company after February 15, 2012, Circular 7 requires all participants of such plans who are PRC citizens to register with and obtain approvals from SAFE prior to their participation in the plan.
Our 521 Plan, which enables eligible participants to invest in the Company by purchasing up to 14 million of the Company’s ADSs at a price of US$27.38 per ADS, could potentially be covered by Circular 7, and the participants of the 521 Plan might be required to abide by the registration and approval requirements contemplated in Circular 7. We believe that ensuring all of the 521 Plan participants comply with the Circular 7 requirements will be a burdensome and time-consuming process, and the required registrations and approvals might not be obtained on a timely basis, or at all. Global Law Office has advised us that pursuant to Circular 7, the SAFE may take regulatory measures and impose administrative sanctions on individuals and companies who might be regarded as violating the provisions of Circular 7, which will depend on how the SAFE interprets, applies and enforces Circular 7.
Risks Related to Doing Business in China
Adverse economic, political and legal developments in China could have a material adverse effect on our business.
Substantially all of our business operations are conducted in China. Accordingly, our results of operations, financial condition and prospects are subject to a significant degree to economic, political and legal developments in China. China’s economy differs from the economies of most developed countries in many respects, including with respect to the amount of government involvement, level of development, growth rate, control of foreign exchange and allocation of resources. While the PRC economy has experienced significant growth in the past 30 years or so, growth has been uneven across different regions and among various economic sectors of China. Economic growth in China has been slowing in the past few years and dropped to 6.1% for 2019, according to data released by the PRC government in January 2020. Furthermore, China’s GDP growth turned negative in the first quarter of 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The PRC government has implemented various measures to encourage economic development and guide the allocation of resources. However, these measures may not be successful in transforming the Chinese economy or spurring growth. While some of these measures benefit the overall PRC economy, they may also have a negative effect on us. For example, our financial condition and results of operations may be adversely affected by government control over capital investments or changes in tax regulations that are applicable to us.
Although the PRC government has implemented measures since the late 1970s emphasizing the utilization of market forces for economic reform, the reduction of state ownership of productive assets and the establishment of improved corporate governance in business enterprises, the PRC government still owns a substantial portion of productive assets in China. In addition, the PRC government continues to play a significant role in regulating industry development by imposing industrial policies. The PRC government also exercises significant control over China’s economic growth through the allocation of resources, controlling payment of foreign currency-denominated obligations, setting monetary policy and providing preferential treatment to particular industries or companies. Actions and policies of the PRC government could materially affect our ability to operate our business.
Uncertainties with respect to the PRC legal system could adversely affect us.
We conduct our business primarily through our subsidiaries in China. Our operations in China are governed by PRC laws and regulations. Our subsidiaries are generally subject to laws and regulations applicable to foreign investments in China and, in particular, laws applicable to wholly foreign-owned enterprises. The PRC legal system is based on written statutes. Prior court decisions may be cited for reference but have limited precedential value.
Although since 1979, PRC legislation and regulations have significantly enhanced the protections afforded to various forms of foreign investments in China, China has not developed a fully integrated legal system, and recently enacted laws and regulations may not sufficiently cover all aspects of economic activities in China. In particular, because these laws and regulations are relatively new, and because of the limited volume of published decisions and their nonbinding nature, the interpretation and enforcement of these laws and regulations involve uncertainties. In addition, the PRC legal system is based in part on government policies and internal rules (some of which are not published on a timely basis or at all) that may have a retroactive effect. As a result, we may not be aware of our violation of these policies and rules until sometime after the violation. In addition, any litigation in China may be protracted and result in substantial costs and diversion of resources and management attention.
Governmental control of currency conversion may affect the value of your investment.
The PRC government imposes controls on the convertibility of the RMB into foreign currencies and the remittance of currency out of China. Under existing PRC foreign exchange regulations, payments of current account items, including profit distributions, interest payments and expenditures from trade-related transactions, can be made in foreign currencies without prior approval from the SAFE by complying with certain procedural requirements. However, approval from appropriate government authorities is required where RMB is to be converted into foreign currency and remitted out of China to pay capital expenses such as the repayment of loans denominated in foreign currencies. The PRC government may also at its discretion restrict access in the future to foreign currencies for current account transactions. Under our current corporate structure, the primary source of our income at the holding company level is dividend payments from our PRC subsidiaries. Shortages in the availability of foreign currency may restrict the ability of our PRC subsidiaries to remit sufficient foreign currency to pay dividends or other payments to us, or otherwise satisfy their foreign currency denominated obligations. If the foreign exchange control system prevents us from obtaining sufficient foreign currency to satisfy our currency needs, we may not be able to pay dividends in foreign currencies to our shareholders, including holders of our ADSs.
The PRC Enterprise Income Tax Law may increase the enterprise income tax rate applicable to some of our PRC subsidiaries, which could have a material adverse effect on our result of operations.
According to the PRC Enterprise Income Tax Law, or the EIT Law, which became effective on January 1, 2008, as further clarified by subsequent tax regulations implementing the EIT Law, foreign-invested enterprises and domestic enterprises are subject to enterprise income tax, or EIT, at a uniform rate of 25%, unless otherwise provided. Enterprises that were established and enjoyed preferential tax treatments before March 16, 2007 will continue to enjoy such preferential tax treatments in the following manners: (1) in the case of preferential tax rates, for a five-year transition period starting from January 1, 2008, during which the EIT rate of such enterprises will gradually increase to the uniform 25% EIT rate by January 1, 2012; or (2) in the case of preferential tax exemption or reduction with a specified term, until the expiration of such term. However, if such an enterprise has not enjoyed the preferential treatments yet because of its failure to make a profit, its term for preferential treatments will be deemed to start from 2008.
As a result of the implementation of the EIT Law, certain preferential tax treatments enjoyed by some of our subsidiaries expired on January 1, 2008. According to the EIT Law and related regulations, such as the Circular on Issues Regarding Tax-related Preferential Policies for Further Implementation of Western Development Strategy jointly issued by the State Ministry of Finance, General Administration of Customs, China and State Administration for Taxation, enterprises located in the western China regions that fall into the encouraged industries are entitled to 15% EIT preferential tax treatment from January 1, 2011 to December 31, 2020. The preferential tax rates enjoyed by some of our PRC subsidiaries incorporated in such regions, will increase to the uniform 25% EIT rate after 2020. An increase in the EIT rates for those entities pursuant to the EIT Law could result in an increase in our effective tax rate, which could materially and adversely affect our results of operations.
Our global income or the dividends we receive from our PRC subsidiaries may be subject to PRC tax under the EIT Law, which could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations.
Under the EIT Law, an enterprise established outside of the PRC with “de facto management bodies” within the PRC is considered a resident enterprise and will be subject to the EIT at the rate of 25% on its worldwide income. The Implementation Rules of the EIT Law, or the Implementation Rules, define the term “de facto management bodies” as “establishments that carry out substantial and overall management and control over the manufacturing and business operations, personnel, accounting, properties, etc. of an enterprise.” If we are deemed a resident enterprise, we may be subject to the EIT at 25% on our global income, except that the dividends we receive from our PRC subsidiary will be exempt from the EIT. If we are considered a resident enterprise and earn income other than dividends from our PRC subsidiaries, a 25% EIT on our global income could significantly increase our tax burden and materially and adversely affect our cash flow and profitability.
We have been advised by our PRC counsel, Global Law Office, that pursuant to the EIT Law and the Implementation Rules, dividends payable by a foreign-invested enterprise in China to its foreign investors will be subject to a 10% withholding tax, unless any such foreign investor’s jurisdiction of incorporation has a tax treaty with China that provides for a different withholding arrangement. However, pursuant to the Arrangement between the PRC and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region on the Avoidance of Double Taxation and Prevention of Fiscal Evasion, or the Double Taxation Arrangement, which became effective on January 1, 2007, dividends from our PRC subsidiaries paid to us through our Hong Kong wholly-owned subsidiary CNinsure Holdings Ltd. are subject to a withholding tax at a rate of 5% since CNinsure Holdings Ltd. is treated as a Hong Kong resident enterprise for taxation purpose. Under the EIT Law and the Implementation Rules, if we are regarded as a resident enterprise, the dividends we receive from our PRC subsidiaries will be exempt from the EIT. If, however, we are not regarded as a resident enterprise, our PRC subsidiaries will be required to pay a 5% or 10% withholding tax, as the case may be, for any dividends they pay to us. As a result, the amount of fund available to us to meet our cash requirements, including the payment of dividends to our shareholders and ADS holders, could be materially reduced.
We rely principally on dividends and other distributions on equity paid by our subsidiaries to fund any cash and financing requirements we may have, and any limitation on the ability of our subsidiaries to make payments to us could have a material adverse effect on our ability to conduct our business.
We are a holding company, and we rely principally on dividends from our subsidiaries in China for our cash requirements, including any debt we may incur. Current PRC regulations permit our PRC subsidiaries to pay dividends to us only out of their accumulated profits, if any, determined in accordance with PRC accounting standards and regulations. In addition, according to the PRC Company Law, each of our PRC subsidiaries is required to set aside at least 10% of its after-tax profits each year as reported in its PRC statutory financial statements, if any, to fund a statutory reserve until such reserve reaches 50% of its registered capital. In addition, each of our PRC subsidiaries that are considered foreign-invested enterprises is required to further set aside a portion of its after-tax profits as reported in its PRC statutory financial statements to fund the employee welfare fund at the discretion of its board. These reserves are not distributable as cash dividends. As of December 31, 2019, the total retained earnings of our PRC subsidiaries available for dividend distributions were RMB1.3 billion (US$187.3 million). Furthermore, if our subsidiaries in China incur debt on their own behalf in the future, the instruments governing the debt may restrict their ability to pay dividends or make other payments to us. Any limitation on the ability of our subsidiaries to distribute dividends or other payments to us could materially and adversely limit our ability to grow, make investments or acquisitions that could be beneficial to our businesses, pay dividends, or otherwise fund and conduct our business.
PRC regulations relating to the establishment of offshore special purpose companies by PRC residents and employee stock options granted by overseas-listed companies may increase our administrative burden, restrict our overseas and cross-border investment activity, or otherwise adversely affect us. If our shareholders who are PRC residents, or our PRC employees who are granted or exercise stock options, fail to make any required registrations or filings under such regulations, we may be unable to distribute profits and may become subject to liability under PRC laws.
On October 21, 2005, the SAFE issued a Notice on Relevant Issues Concerning Foreign Exchange Administration for PRC Residents to Engage in Financing and Inbound Investment via Overseas Special Purpose Vehicles, generally known in China as SAFE Circular 75, requiring PRC residents to register with the local SAFE branch before establishing or controlling any company outside of China, referred to in the notice as an “offshore special purpose company,” for the purpose of raising capital backed by assets or equities of PRC companies. PRC residents that are shareholders of offshore special purpose companies established before November 1, 2005 were required to register with the local SAFE branch before March 31, 2006. On July 4, 2014, the SAFE issued the Notice on the Administration of Foreign Exchange Involved in Overseas Investment, Financing and Return on Investment Conducted by PRC Residents via Special-Purpose Companies, or SAFE Circular 37, simultaneously repealing SAFE Circular 75. SAFE Circular 37 also requires PRC residents to register with relevant Foreign Exchange Bureau for foreign exchange registration of overseas investment before making contribution to a special purpose company, or SPC, with legitimate holdings of domestic or overseas assets or interests. See “Item 4. Information on the Company — B. Business Overview — Regulation — Regulations on Foreign Exchange — Foreign Exchange Registration of Offshore Investment by PRC Residents.”
We have requested our beneficial owners who to our knowledge are PRC residents to make the necessary applications, filings and amendments as required under SAFE Circular 37 and other related rules. We attempt to comply, and attempt to ensure that our beneficial owners who are subject to these rules comply with the relevant requirements. However, we cannot assure you that all of our beneficial owners who are PRC residents will comply with our request to make or obtain any applicable registrations or comply with other requirements under SAFE Circular 37 or other related rules. The failure of these beneficial owners to timely amend their SAFE registrations pursuant to SAFE Circular 37 or the failure of future beneficial owners of our company who are PRC residents to comply with the registration procedures set forth in SAFE Circular 37 may subject such beneficial owners to fines and legal sanctions and may also limit our ability to contribute capital into our PRC subsidiaries, limit our PRC subsidiaries’ ability to distribute dividends to our company or otherwise adversely affect our business.
On December 25, 2006, the People’s Bank of China, or the PBOC, promulgated the Measures for the Administration of Individual Foreign Exchange, and on January 5, 2007, the SAFE further promulgated implementation rules for those measures. We refer to these regulations collectively as the Individual Foreign Exchange Rules. The Individual Foreign Exchange Rules became effective on February 1, 2007. According to these regulations, PRC citizens who are granted shares or share options by a company listed on an overseas stock market according to its employee share option or share incentive plan are required, through the PRC subsidiary of such overseas listed company or any other qualified PRC agent, to register with the SAFE and to complete certain other procedures related to the share option or other share incentive plan. Foreign exchange income received from the sale of shares or dividends distributed by the overseas listed company may be remitted into a foreign currency account of such PRC citizen or be exchanged into Renminbi. Our PRC citizen employees who have been granted share options became subject to the Individual Foreign Exchange Rules upon the listing of our ADSs on the NASDAQ.
On February 15, 2012, SAFE promulgated the Notice of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange on Issues Related to Foreign Exchange Administration in Domestic Individuals’ Participation in Equity Incentive Plans of Companies Listed Abroad, or the No. 7 Notice, which supersedes the Operation Rules on Foreign Exchange Administration for Domestic Individuals Participating in Employee Stock Holding Plan or Stock Option Plan of Overseas-Listed Company, or the Stock Option Rule, in its entirety and immediately became effective upon circulation. According to the No. 7 Notice, domestic individuals, which include any directors, supervisors, senior managerial personnel or other employees of a domestic company who are Chinese citizens (including citizens of Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan) or foreign individuals who consecutively reside in the territory of PRC for one year, who participate in the same equity incentive plan of an overseas listed company shall, through the domestic companies they serve, collectively entrust a domestic agency to handle issues like foreign exchange registration, account opening, funds transfer and remittance, and entrust an overseas institution to handle issues like exercise of options, purchasing and sale of related stocks or equity, and funds transfer. As an overseas publicly listed company, we and our employees who have been granted stock options or any type of equity awards may be subject to the No. 7 Notice. If we or our employees who are subject to the No. 7 Notice fail to comply with these regulations, we may be subject to fines and legal sanctions. See “Item 4. Information on the Company — B. Business Overview — Regulation — Regulations on Foreign Exchange — SAFE Regulations on Employee Share Options.”
Fluctuation in the value of the RMB may have a material adverse effect on your investment.
The value of the RMB against the U.S. dollar and other currencies may fluctuate and is affected by, among other things, changes in political and economic conditions. On July 21, 2005, the PRC government changed its decade-old policy of pegging the value of the RMB to the U.S. dollar. Under the new policy, the PRC government allowed the RMB to appreciate by more than 20% against the U.S. dollar between July 2005 and July 2008. Between July 2008 and June 2010, this appreciation halted and the exchange rate between the RMB and the U.S. dollar remained within a narrow band. Since June 2010, the PRC government has allowed the RMB to appreciate slowly against the U.S. dollar again, though there have been periods when the U.S. dollar has appreciated against the Renminbi as well. In April 2012, the trading band was widened to 1%, and in March 2014 it was further widened to 2%, which allows the Renminbi to fluctuate against the U.S. dollar by up to 2% above or below the central parity rate published by the PBOC. In August 2015, the PBOC changed the way it calculates the mid-point price of Renminbi against U.S. dollar, requiring the market-makers who submit for the PBOC’s reference rates to consider the previous day’s closing spot rate, foreign-exchange demand and supply as well as changes in major currency rates. This change, and other changes such as widening the trading band that may be implemented, may increase volatility in the value of the Renminbi against foreign currencies. It is difficult to predict how market forces or PRC or United States government policy may impact the exchange rate between the RMB and the U.S. dollar in the future.
Our revenues and costs are mostly denominated in the RMB, and a significant portion of our financial assets are also denominated in RMB. We rely on dividends and other fees paid to us by our subsidiaries in China. Any significant appreciation or depreciation of the RMB against the U.S. dollar may affect our cash flows, revenues, earnings and financial position, and the value of, and any dividends payable on, our ADSs in U.S. dollars. For example, a further appreciation of the RMB against the U.S. dollar would make any new RMB-denominated investments or expenditures more costly to us, to the extent that we need to convert U.S. dollars into RMB for such purposes. An appreciation of the RMB against the U.S. dollar would also result in foreign currency translation losses for financial reporting purposes when we translate our U.S. dollar denominated financial assets into the RMB, as the RMB is our reporting currency. Conversely, a significant depreciation of the RMB against the U.S. dollar may significantly reduce the U.S. dollar equivalent of our reported earnings, and may adversely affect the price of our ADSs.
Certain PRC regulations could also make it more difficult for us to pursue growth through acquisitions.
Among other things, the Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investor, or the M&A Rule, also established additional procedures and requirements that could make merger and acquisition activities by foreign investors more time-consuming and complex, including requirements in some instances that the Ministry of Commerce be notified in advance of any change-of-control transaction in which a foreign investor takes control of a PRC domestic enterprise. To date, we have conducted our acquisitions in China exclusively through subsidiaries that used to be our PRC consolidated affiliated entities. In the future, we may grow our business in part by directly acquiring complementary businesses. Complying with the requirements of the new regulations to complete such transactions could be time consuming, and any required approval processes, including obtaining approval from the Ministry of Commerce, may prevent us from completing such transactions on a timely basis, or at all, which could affect our ability to expand our business or maintain our market share.
Risks Related to Our ADSs
The trading price of our ADSs may be volatile.
The trading price of our ADSs may be volatile and could fluctuate widely due to factors beyond our control. This may happen because of broad market and industry factors, like the performance and fluctuation in the market prices or the underperformance or deteriorating financial results of other listed companies based in China. The securities of some of these companies have experienced significant volatility since their initial public offerings, including, in some cases, substantial price declines in the trading prices of their securities. The trading performances of other Chinese companies’ securities after their offerings, including internet and e-commerce companies, may affect the attitudes of investors toward Chinese companies listed in the United States, which consequently may impact the trading performance of our ADSs, regardless of our actual operating performance. In addition, any negative news or perceptions about inadequate corporate governance practices or fraudulent accounting, corporate structure or matters of other Chinese companies may also negatively affect the attitudes of investors towards Chinese companies in general, including us, regardless of whether we have conducted any inappropriate activities. In addition, securities markets may from time to time experience significant price and volume fluctuations that are not related to our operating performance, which may have a material and adverse effect on the trading price of our ADSs.
In addition to the above factors, the price and trading volume of our ADSs may be highly volatile due to multiple factors, including the following:
|●||changes in the economic performance or market valuations of other insurance intermediaries;|
|●||actual or anticipated fluctuations in our quarterly results of operations and changes or revisions of our expected results;|
|●||changes in financial estimates by securities research analysts;|
|●||conditions in the Chinese insurance industry;|
|●||announcements by us or our competitors of acquisitions, strategic relationships, joint ventures, capital raisings or capital commitments;|
|●||additions to or departures of our senior management;|
|●||fluctuations of exchange rates between the RMB and the U.S. dollar or other foreign currencies;|
|●||potential litigation or administrative investigations;|
|●||sales or perceived potential sales of additional ordinary shares or ADSs; and|
|●||general economic or political conditions in China and abroad.|
Any of these factors may result in large and sudden changes in the volume and trading price of our ADSs. In addition, the stock market has from time to time experienced significant price and volume fluctuations that are unrelated to the operating performance of particular companies and industries.
The volatility resulting from any of the above factors may affect the price at which you could sell the ADSs.
We may need additional capital, and the sale of additional ADSs or other equity securities could result in additional dilution to our shareholders.
We believe that our current cash and cash equivalents and anticipated cash flow from operations will be sufficient to meet our anticipated cash needs for the foreseeable future. We may, however, require additional cash resources due to changed business conditions or other future developments, including any investments or acquisitions we may decide to pursue. If these resources are insufficient to satisfy our cash requirements, we may seek to sell additional equity or debt securities or obtain a credit facility. The sale of additional equity securities could result in additional dilution to our shareholders. The incurrence of indebtedness would result in increased debt service obligations and could result in operating and financing covenants that would restrict our operations. We cannot assure you that financing will be available in amounts or on terms acceptable to us, if at all.
Substantial future sales or perceived potential sales of our ordinary shares, ADSs or other equity securities in the public market could cause the price of our ADSs to decline.
Additional sales of our ADSs in the public market, or the perception that these sales could occur, could cause the market price of our ADSs to decline. If any existing shareholder or shareholders sell a substantial amount of ordinary shares in the form of ADSs, the market price of our ADSs could decline. In addition, we may issue additional ordinary shares as considerations for future acquisitions. If we do so, your ownership interests in our company would be diluted and this in turn could have an adverse effect on the price of our ADSs.
Our corporate actions are substantially controlled by our officers, directors and principal shareholders.
As of March 31, 2020, our executive officers and directors beneficially owned approximately 21.4% of our outstanding shares. These shareholders could exert substantial influence over matters requiring approval by our shareholders, including electing directors and approving mergers or other business combination transactions, and they may not act in the best interests of other noncontrolling shareholders. In addition, as of March 31, 2020, companies established to hold ordinary shares of the Company on behalf of the Participants in the 521 Plan, or 521 Plan Employee Companies, collectively held 280,000,000 ordinary shares. Through loan agreements and entrusted share purchase agreement, as these shares are pledged to the Company as collateral to secure the loans provided to the Participants, we have the right to dispose of part or all of the shares held by the 521 Plan Employee Companies on behalf of the Participant if the Participant’s employment or agent contracts with the Company or its subsidiaries were terminated within five years, or if the Participant failed to achieve at least 70% of his or her committed performance targets. The 521 Plan Employee Companies have either established an employee committee or appointed employee representatives for the Participants, each with the power to make voting and disposition decisions with respect to the shares. Although the committee or employee representatives have promised to vote the shares they control in a manner that is in the best interest of the Participants, we could exert substantial influence over the members of the employee committee or the employee representatives, who are our employees, or they may not act in a manner that protects the interests of other noncontrolling shareholders. This concentration of our share ownership also may discourage, delay or prevent a change in control of our company, which could deprive our shareholders of an opportunity to receive a premium for their shares as part of a sale of our company and might reduce the price of our ADSs. These actions may be taken even if they are opposed by our other shareholders.
Holders of our ADSs may have fewer rights than holders of our ordinary shares and must act through the depositary to exercise those rights.
Holders of ADSs do not have the same rights as our registered shareholders. The holders of our ADSs will not have any direct right to attend general meetings of our shareholders or to directly cast any votes at such meetings. The holders of our ADSs will only be able to exercise the voting rights which are carried by the underlying ordinary shares represented by their ADSs indirectly by giving voting instructions to the depositary in accordance with the provisions of the deposit agreement (“unrestricted deposit agreement”), and the deposit agreement for restricted securities (as defined below) (each also referred to as a “deposit agreement”, and together the “deposit agreements”). Under the deposit agreements, the holders of our ADSs may vote only by giving voting instructions to the depositary. Upon receipt of the voting instructions from the holders of our ADSs, the depositary will vote the underlying ordinary shares represented by their ADSs in accordance with these instructions. The holders of our ADSs will not be able to directly exercise their right to vote with respect to the underlying ordinary shares unless they withdraw such shares and become the registered holder of such shares prior to the record date for the general meeting. Under our amended and restated memorandum and articles of association, the minimum notice period required to be given by our company to our registered shareholders to convene a general meeting is fourteen calendar days. When a general meeting is convened, the holders of our ADSs may not receive sufficient advance notice of the meeting to permit the holders of our ADSs to withdraw the underlying ordinary shares represented by their ADSs and become the registered holder of such shares to allow the holders of our ADSs to attend the general meeting and to cast their vote directly with respect to any specific matter or resolution to be considered and voted upon at the general meeting. Furthermore, under our amended and restated memorandum and articles of association, for the purposes of determining those shareholders who are entitled to attend and vote at any general meeting, our directors may close our register of members and/or fix in advance a record date for such meeting, and such closure of our register of members or the setting of such a record date may prevent the holders of our ADSs from withdrawing the underlying ordinary shares represented by their ADSs and becoming the registered holder of such shares prior to the record date, so that they would not be able to attend the general meeting or to vote directly. If we ask for their instructions, the depositary will notify the holders of our ADSs of the upcoming vote and will arrange to deliver our voting materials to them. We cannot assure the holders of our ADSs that they will receive the voting materials in time to ensure that they can instruct the depositary to vote the ordinary shares underlying their ADSs. In addition, the depositary and its agents are not responsible for failing to carry out voting instructions or for their manner of carrying out the voting instructions of the holders of our ADSs. This means that the holders of our ADSs may not be able to exercise their right to direct how the underlying ordinary shares represented by their ADSs are voted and they may have no legal remedy if the underlying ordinary shares represented by their ADSs are not voted as they requested. In addition, in their capacity as an ADS holder, the holders of our ADSs will not be able to call a shareholders’ meeting. Furthermore, you may not receive voting materials in time to instruct the depositary to vote, and it is possible that you, or persons who hold their ADSs through brokers, dealers or other third parties, will not have the opportunity to exercise a right to vote.
Except as described in this annual report and in the deposit agreement, holders of our ADSs will not be able to exercise voting rights attaching to the shares evidenced by our ADSs on an individual basis. Holders of ADSs may instruct the depositary to exercise the voting rights attaching to the shares represented by the ADSs. If no instructions are received by the depositary on or before a date established by the depositary, the depositary shall deem the holders to have instructed it to give a discretionary proxy to a person designated by us to exercise their voting rights. You may not receive voting materials in time to instruct the depositary to vote, and it is possible that you, or persons who hold their ADSs through brokers, dealers or other third parties, will not have the opportunity to exercise a right to vote.
Right of holders of our ADSs to participate in any future rights offerings may be limited, which may cause dilution to their holdings.
We may from time to time distribute rights to our shareholders, including rights to acquire our securities. However, we cannot make rights available to holders of our ADSs in the United States unless we register both the rights and the securities to which the rights relate under the Securities Act or an exemption from the registration requirements is available. Under the deposit agreements, the depositary will not make rights available to holders of our ADSs unless both the rights and the underlying securities to be distributed to ADS holders are either registered under the Securities Act or exempt from registration under the Securities Act. We are under no obligation to file a registration statement with respect to any such rights or securities or to endeavor to cause such a registration statement to be declared effective and we may not be able to establish a necessary exemption from registration under the Securities Act. Accordingly, holders of our ADSs may be unable to participate in our rights offerings and may experience dilution in their holdings.
Holders of our restricted ADSs may be subject to limitations on transfer of their ADSs.
Restricted ADSs are transferable on the books of the depositary. However, the depositary may close its transfer books at any time or from time to time when it deems expedient in connection with the performance of its duties. In addition, the depositary may refuse to deliver, transfer or register transfers of restricted ADSs generally when our books or the books of the depositary are closed, or at any time if we or the depositary deems it advisable to do so because of any requirement of law or of any government or governmental body, or under any provision of the deposit agreements, or for any other reason.
Certain judgments obtained against us by our shareholders may not be enforceable.
We are an exempted company incorporated under the laws of the Cayman Islands. We conduct our operations outside the United States and substantially all of our assets are located outside the United States. In addition, substantially all of our directors and officers are nationals or residents of jurisdictions other than the United States and a substantial portion of their assets are located outside the United States. As a result, it may be difficult or impossible for our shareholders to bring an action against us or against them in the United States in the event that our shareholders believe that their rights have been infringed under the U.S. federal securities laws or otherwise. Even if our shareholders are successful in bringing an action of this kind, the laws of the Cayman Islands, the PRC or other relevant jurisdiction may render our shareholders unable to enforce a judgment against our assets or the assets of our directors and officers.
Since we are a Cayman Islands company, the rights of our shareholders may be more limited than those of shareholders of a company organized in the United States.
Under the laws of some jurisdictions in the United States, majority and controlling shareholders generally have certain fiduciary responsibilities to the minority shareholders. Shareholder action must be taken in good faith, and actions by controlling shareholders which are obviously unreasonable may be declared null and void. Cayman Island law protecting the interests of minority shareholders may not be as protective in all circumstances as the law protecting minority shareholders in some U.S. jurisdictions. In addition, the circumstances in which a shareholder of a Cayman Islands company may sue the company derivatively, and the procedures and defenses that may be available to the company, may result in the rights of shareholders of a Cayman Islands company being more limited than those of shareholders of a company organized in the United States.
Furthermore, our directors have the power to take certain actions without shareholder approval which would require shareholder approval under the laws of most U.S. jurisdictions. The directors of a Cayman Islands company, without shareholder approval, may implement a sale of any assets, property, part of the business, or securities of the company. Our ability to create and issue new classes or series of shares without shareholder approval could have the effect of delaying, deterring or preventing a change in control of our Company without any further action by our shareholders, including a tender offer to purchase our ordinary shares at a premium over prevailing market prices.
The audit reports included in this annual report have been prepared by our independent registered public accounting firm whose work may not be inspected fully by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board and, as such, you may be deprived of the benefits of such inspection.
Our independent registered public accounting firm that issues the audit reports included in our annual reports filed with the U.S. SEC, as auditors of companies that are traded publicly in the United States and a firm registered with the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (United States), or the PCAOB, is required by the laws of the United States to undergo regular inspections by the PCAOB to assess its compliance with the laws of the United States and professional standards.
Because we have substantial operations within the PRC and the PCAOB is currently unable to conduct inspections of the work of our independent registered public accounting firm as it relates to those operations without the approval of the Chinese authorities, our independent registered public accounting firm is not currently inspected fully by the PCAOB. This lack of PCAOB inspections in the PRC prevents the PCAOB from regularly evaluating our independent registered public accounting firm’s audits and its quality control procedures. As a result, investors may be deprived of the benefits of PCAOB inspections.
On May 24, 2013, PCAOB announced that it had entered into a Memorandum of Understanding on Enforcement Cooperation with the China Securities Regulatory Commission, or the CSRC, and the Ministry of Finance which establishes a cooperative framework between the parties for the production and exchange of audit documents relevant to investigations in the United States and China. On inspection, it appears that the PCAOB continues to be in discussions with the Mainland China regulators to permit inspections of audit firms that are registered with PCAOB in relation to the audit of Chinese companies that trade on U.S. exchanges. On December 7, 2018, the SEC and the PCAOB issued a joint statement highlighting continued challenges faced by the U.S. regulators in their oversight of financial statement audits of U.S.-listed companies with significant operations in China. The joint statement reflects a heightened interest in this issue. However, it remains unclear what further actions the SEC and PCAOB will take and its impact on Chinese companies listed in the U.S.
Inspections of other firms that the PCAOB has conducted outside the PRC have identified deficiencies in those firms’ audit procedures and quality control procedures, which may be addressed as part of the inspection process to improve future audit quality. The inability of the PCAOB to conduct full inspections of auditors in the PRC makes it more difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of our independent registered public accounting firm’s audit procedures or quality control procedures as compared to auditors outside the PRC that are subject to PCAOB inspections. Investors may lose confidence in our reported financial information and procedures and the quality of our financial statements.
If the settlement reached between the SEC and the Big Four PRC-based accounting firms (including the Chinese affiliate of our independent registered public accounting firm), concerning the manner in which the SEC may seek access to audit working papers from audits in China of U.S.-listed companies, is not or cannot be performed in a manner acceptable to authorities in China and the United States, we could be unable to timely file future financial statements in compliance with the requirements of the Exchange Act.
In late 2012, the SEC commenced administrative proceedings under Rule 102(e) of its Rules of Practice and also under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 against the mainland Chinese affiliates of the “Big Four” accounting firms (including the mainland Chinese affiliate of our independent registered public accounting firm). A first instance trial of the proceedings in July 2013 in the SEC’s internal administrative court resulted in an adverse judgment against the firms. The administrative law judge proposed penalties on the Chinese accounting firms including a temporary suspension of their right to practice before the SEC, although that proposed penalty did not take effect pending review by the Commissioners of the SEC. On February 6, 2015, before a review by the Commissioner had taken place, the Chinese accounting firms reached a settlement with the SEC whereby the proceedings were stayed. Under the settlement, the SEC accepted that future requests by the SEC for the production of documents would normally be made to the CSRC. The Chinese accounting firms would receive requests matching those under Section 106 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, and would be required to abide by a detailed set of procedures with respect to such requests, which in substance would require them to facilitate production via the CSRC. The CSRC for its part initiated a procedure whereby, under its supervision and subject to its approval, requested classes of documents held by the accounting firms could be sanitized of problematic and sensitive content so as to render them capable of being made available by the CSRC to US regulators.
Under the terms of the settlement, the underlying proceeding against the four PRC-based accounting firms was deemed dismissed with prejudice at the end of four years starting from the settlement date, which was on February 6, 2019. Despite the final ending of the proceedings, the presumption is that all parties will continue to apply the same procedures: i.e. the SEC will continue to make its requests for the production of documents to the CSRC, and the CSRC will normally process those requests applying the sanitization procedure. We cannot predict whether, in cases where the CSRC does not authorize production of requested documents to the SEC, the SEC will further challenge the four PRC-based accounting firms’ compliance with U.S. law. If additional challenges are imposed on the Chinese affiliates of the “big four” accounting firms, we could be unable to timely file future financial statements in compliance with the requirements of the Exchange Act.
In the event that the SEC restarts the administrative proceedings, depending upon the final outcome listed companies in the United States with major PRC operations may find it difficult or impossible to retain auditors in respect of their operations in the PRC, which could result in financial statements being determined to not be in compliance with the requirements of the Exchange Act, including possible delisting. Moreover, any negative news about any such future proceedings against these accounting firms may cause investor uncertainty regarding China-based, United States-listed companies and the market price of our ADSs may be adversely affected.
As part of a continued regulatory focus in the United States on access to audit and other information currently protected by foreign law, in particular China’s, in June 2019, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the United States introduced bills in both houses of Congress that would require the SEC to maintain a list of issuers for which the PCAOB is not able to inspect or investigate an auditor report issued by a foreign public accounting firm. The Ensuring Quality Information and Transparency for Abroad-Based Listings on our Exchanges (EQUITABLE) Act prescribes increased disclosure requirements for such issuers and, beginning in 2025, the delisting from national securities exchanges such as Nasdaq of issuers included for three consecutive years on the SEC’s list. Enactment of this legislation or other efforts to increase U.S. regulatory access to audit information could cause investors uncertainty for affected issuers, including us, and the market price of our ADSs could be adversely affected. It is unclear if this proposed legislation will be enacted.
If the Chinese affiliate of our independent registered public accounting firm were denied, even temporarily, the ability to practice before the SEC and we were unable to timely find another registered public accounting firm to audit and issue an opinion on our financial statements, our financial statements could be determined not to be in compliance with the requirements of the Exchange Act. Such a determination could ultimately lead to the delisting of our ordinary shares from the NYSE or deregistration from the SEC, or both, which would substantially reduce or effectively terminate the trading of our ADSs in the United States.
Our articles of association contain anti-takeover provisions that could discourage a third party from acquiring us, which could limit our shareholders’ opportunity to sell their shares, including ordinary shares represented by our ADSs, at a premium.
Our amended and restated memorandum and articles of association contain provisions which have the potential to limit the ability of others to acquire control of our company or cause us to engage in change-of-control transactions. These provisions have the effect of depriving our shareholders of an opportunity to sell their shares at a premium over prevailing market prices by discouraging third parties from seeking to obtain control of our company in a tender offer or similar transaction. For example, our board of directors has the authority, without further action by our shareholders, to issue preferred shares in one or more series and to fix their designations, powers, preferences, privileges and other rights, including dividend rights, conversion rights, voting rights, terms of redemption and liquidation preferences, any or all of which may be greater than the rights associated with our ordinary shares, in the form of ADS or otherwise, at such time and on such terms as they may think appropriate. In the event these preferred shares have better voting rights than our ordinary shares, in the form of ADSs or otherwise, they could be issued quickly with terms calculated to delay or prevent a change in control of our company or make removal of management more difficult. If our board of directors decides to issue preferred shares, the price of our ADSs may fall and the voting and other rights of the holders of our ordinary shares and ADSs may be materially and adversely affected.
You may have to rely primarily on price appreciation of our ADSs for any return on your investment.
Our board of directors has discretion as to whether to distribute dividends, subject to applicable laws. Although our board of directors has announced a policy to declare and pay dividends on a quarterly basis, the amount and form of future dividends will depend on, among other things, our future results of operations and cash flow, our capital requirements and surplus, the amount of distributions, if any, received by us from our subsidiaries, our financial condition, contractual restrictions and other factors deemed relevant by our board of directors. Accordingly, the return on your investment in our ADSs will likely depend primarily upon any future price appreciation of our ADSs. There is no guarantee that our ADSs will appreciate in value or even maintain the price at which you purchased the ADSs. You may not realize a return on your investment in our ADSs and you may even lose your entire investment in our ADSs.
As a foreign private issuer, we are exempt from certain disclosure requirements under the Exchange Act, which may afford less protection to our shareholders than they would enjoy if we were a domestic U.S. company.
As a foreign private issuer, we are exempt from, among other things, the rules prescribing the furnishing and content of proxy statements under the Exchange Act. In addition, our executive officers, directors and principal shareholders are exempt from the reporting and short-swing profit and recovery provisions contained in Section 16 of the Exchange Act. We are also not required under the Exchange Act to file periodic reports and financial statements with the SEC as frequently or as promptly as domestic U.S. companies with securities registered under the Exchange Act. As a result, our shareholders may be afforded less protection than they would under the Exchange Act rules applicable to domestic U.S. companies.
You may face difficulties in protecting your interests, and your ability to protect your rights through the U.S. federal courts may be limited, because we are incorporated under Cayman Islands law, conduct substantially all of our operations in China and the majority of our officers reside outside the United States
We are incorporated in the Cayman Islands, and conduct substantially all of our operations in China through our subsidiaries in China. Most of our officers reside outside the United States and some or all of the assets of those persons are located outside of the United States. The legal system in Cayman, the PRC or other relevant jurisdictions may not afford our shareholders the same level of protection as the legal system in the United States would. For instance, the Securities Laws of the PRC regulates only security issuances and trading outside of the PRC to the extent that such issuance and trading disrupts domestic markets and negatively affects the interest of domestic investors in the PRC. As such, investors in the United States may not be able to file a lawsuit under the Securities Law in the PRC. Even if you are successful in bringing an action in the PRC, shareholder claims that are common in the United States, including class action suits securities law and fraud claims, may be difficult or impossible to pursue as a matter of law or practicality in the PRC. As a result, it may be difficult or impossible for you to bring an action against us or against these individuals in the Cayman Islands or in China in the event that you believe that your rights have been infringed under the securities laws or otherwise. Even if you are successful in bringing an action of this kind outside the Cayman Islands or China, the laws of the Cayman Islands and of China may render you unable to effect service of process upon, or to enforce a judgment against our assets or the assets of our directors and officers.
The SEC, U.S. Department of Justice, or the DOJ, and other relevant regulatory authorities in the United States play vital roles in enforcing laws and regulations that protect securities investors. These U.S. authorities may face significant legal and other obstacles to obtaining information needed for investigations or litigation. Further, these U.S. authorities may have substantial difficulties in bringing and enforcing actions against non-U.S. companies and non-U.S. persons, including company directors and officers, which will further limit protections available to our shareholders. According to the Securities Laws of the PRC, without the approval of securities regulator and other actors within the Chinese government, no entity or individual in China may provide documents and information relating to securities business activities to overseas regulators. In addition, local authorities in Cayman, the PRC or other relevant jurisdicitions often are constrained in their ability to assist U.S. authorities and overseas investors more generally. There are also legal or other obstacles to seeking access to funds in a foreign country.
There is no statutory enforcement in the Cayman Islands of judgments obtained in the United States, although a judgment obtained in the federal or state courts of the United States courts will be recognized and enforced in the courts of the Cayman Islands at common law, without any re-examination of the merits of the underlying dispute, by an action commenced on the foreign judgment debt in the Grand Court of the Cayman Islands, provided such judgment: (a) is given by a foreign court of competent jurisdiction, (b) imposes on the judgment debtor a liability to pay a liquidated sum for which the judgment has been given, (c) is final, (d) is not in respect of taxes, a fine, or a penalty, and (d) was not obtained in a manner and is not of a kind the enforcement of which is contrary to natural justice or the public policy of the Cayman Islands. However, the Cayman Islands courts are unlikely to enforce a judgment obtained from the U.S. courts under civil liability provisions of the U.S. federal securities law if such judgment is determined by the courts of the Cayman Islands to give rise to obligations to make payments that are penal or punitive in nature. A Cayman Islands court may stay enforcement proceedings if concurrent proceedings are being brought elsewhere. A judgment of a court of another jurisdiction may be reciprocally recognized or enforced if the jurisdiction has a treaty with China or if judgments of the PRC courts have been recognized before in that jurisdiction, subject to the satisfaction of other requirements. However, China does not have treaties providing for the reciprocal enforcement of judgments of courts with Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States and most other Western countries.
Our corporate affairs are governed by our amended and restated memorandum and articles of association and by the Companies Law (2020 Revision) (the “Company Law”) and the common law of the Cayman Islands. The rights of shareholders to take legal action against our directors and us, actions by minority shareholders and the fiduciary responsibilities of our directors to us under Cayman Islands law are to a large extent governed by the common law of the Cayman Islands. The common law of the Cayman Islands is derived in part from comparatively limited judicial precedent in the Cayman Islands as well as from English common law, which has persuasive, but not binding, authority on a court in the Cayman Islands. The rights of our shareholders and the fiduciary responsibilities of our directors under Cayman Islands law are not as clearly established as they would be under statutes or judicial precedents in the United States. In particular, the Cayman Islands has a less developed body of securities laws as compared to the United States, and provides significantly less protection to investors. In addition, Cayman Islands companies may not have standing to initiate a shareholder derivative action before the federal courts of the United States.
As a result of all of the above, our investors may have more difficulty in protecting their interests through actions against our management, directors or major shareholders than would shareholders of a corporation incorporated in a jurisdiction in the United States.
We may be a passive foreign investment company for United States federal income tax purposes, which could result in adverse United States federal income tax consequences to United States Holders of our ADSs or ordinary shares.
We will be a passive foreign investment company, or PFIC. for United States federal income tax purposes for any taxable year if, applying applicable look-through rules, either (1) at least 75% of our gross income for such year is passive income or (2) at least 50% of the value of our assets (generally determined based on an average of the quarterly values of the assets) during such year is attributable to assets that produce passive income or are held for the production of passive income. We must make a separate determination after the close of each taxable year as to whether we were a PFIC for that year. Based on the market price of our ADSs, the value of our assets, and the composition of our income and assets, we do not believe that we were a PFIC for United States federal income tax purposes for our taxable year ended December 31, 2019. However, we believe we were a PFIC for 2017 and prior years. In addition, we believe that it is likely that one or more of our subsidiaries were also PFICs for such prior years. Because the value of our assets for purposes of the PFIC test will generally be determined by reference to the market price of our ADSs or ordinary shares, our PFIC status will depend in large part on the market price of the ADSs or ordinary shares, which may fluctuate significantly. If our market capitalization declines, we may be or become a PFIC because our liquid assets and cash (which are for this purpose considered assets that produce passive income) may then represent a greater percentage of our overall assets. In addition, the application of the PFIC rules is subject to uncertainty in several respects, and we cannot assure you that the United States Internal Revenue Service, or the IRS, will agree with any positions that we ultimately take. Accordingly, we cannot assure you that we will not be treated as a PFIC for any taxable year or that the IRS will not take a contrary position to any determination we make.
If we are a PFIC for any taxable year (as we believe we were for 2017 and prior years) during which a United States Holder (as defined in “Item 10. Additional Information — E. Taxation — United States Federal Income Taxation”) holds our ADSs or ordinary shares, certain adverse United States federal income tax consequences could apply to such United States Holder. See “Item 10. Additional Information — E. Taxation — United States Federal Income Taxation — Passive Foreign Investment Company.”
Item 4. Information on the Company
|A.||History and Development of the Company|
History of Our Corporate Structure
We started our operation in 1999 through Guangzhou Nanyun Car Rental Services Co., Ltd. and Guangdong Nanfeng Automobile Association Co., Ltd. In 2001, we formed China United Financial Services Holdings Limited, or China United Financial Services, a British Virgin Islands company, as the offshore holding company of our PRC subsidiaries. In June 2004, CISG Holdings Ltd., or CISG Holdings was incorporated in British Virgin Islands. CISG Holdings became our holding company through share exchanges with China United Financial Services.
In anticipation of our initial public offering, we incorporated CNinsure Inc. in the Cayman Islands in April 2007. After a series of restructuring transactions, CNinsure Inc. became the ultimate holding company of our group.
On October 31, 2007, we listed our ADSs on the Nasdaq Global Market under the symbol “CISG.” We and certain selling shareholders of our company, completed the initial public offering of 13,526,773 ADSs, each representing 20 ordinary shares, on November 5, 2007.
In October 2012, we obtained license approval from the then CIRC to establish an insurance sales service group company and renamed Shenzhen Nanfeng Investment, our wholly-owned subsidiary in the PRC, as “Fanhua Insurance Sales Service Group Company Limited”, or Fanhua Group Company, to serve as the onshore holding company of our PRC operating entities.
On December 6, 2016, our shareholders approved the change of our company name from CNinsure Inc. to Fanhua Inc. Our ticker symbol was changed to “FANH” subsequently.
History of Our Business Operation
We began our insurance intermediary business in 1999 by distributing auto insurance products and auto loans on an ancillary basis and expanded our product offerings to other property and casualty insurance products in 2002. We commenced life insurance products distribution by acquiring three life insurance agencies in 2006 and began to offer claims adjusting services by acquiring four claims adjusting firms in 2008. In June 2010, we established an insurance brokerage business unit to expand our product offerings from retail to commercial lines.
We have grown both organically and through acquisitions. Since 2002, we expanded our operations nationwide by establishing 21 insurance agencies and two insurance brokerage firms and acquiring majority interests in 21 insurance agencies and five claims adjusting firms.
In October 2017, as part of our transition towards the fee-based platform model, we sold Fanhua Times Sales & Service Co., Ltd., and all of its subsidiaries, including 18 P&C insurance agencies and one insurance brokerage firm, to Beijing Cheche Technology Co., Ltd. and divested our insurance brokerage segment in November 2017.
In recent years, we have devoted significant efforts to developing and managing our mobile and online platforms. In 2010, we started to build an e-commerce insurance platform. In April 2014, we established Dianliang Information, as the holding company for eHuzhu (www.ehuzhu.com), an online mutual aid platform that we launched in July 2014. In October 2012, we launched CNpad application, a mobile sales support system, which was later divided into CNpad Auto and Lan Zhanggui. Chetong. Net, an online claims services resource aggregating platform, was launched in 2014.
We have also made investments in complementary business areas, such as consumer finance and wealth management since 2009. We currently own an 18.5% equity interest in CNFinance (NYSE: CNF), a leading home equity loan service provider in China, and a 4.5% equity interest in Puyi Inc. (NASDAQ: PUYI), a leading third-party wealth management service provider in China which beneficially owns 100% in Fanhua Puyi Fund Distribution Co., Ltd., or Fanhua Puyi.
Our principal executive offices are located at 27/F, Pearl River Tower, No. 15 West Zhujiang Road, Guangzhou, Guangdong 510623, People’s Republic of China. Our telephone number at this address is +86-20-8388-6888. Our registered office is at the offices of Maples Corporate Services Limited, PO Box 309, Ugland House, Grand Cayman, KY1-1104, Cayman Islands. Our agent for service of process in the United States is CT Corporation System, located at 111 Eighth Avenue, New York, New York 10011.
Our capital expenditures have been used primarily to construct, upgrade and maintain our online platforms. See “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects – B. Liquidity and Capital Resources.”
Driven by our cutting-edge technologies and insurance industry expertise, we are the leading independent insurance intermediary group in China. We connect millions of individual customers to our 103 insurance company partners as of March 31, 2020. As an independent insurance agency, we possess unique advantages over the exclusive distribution channels of insurance companies. We offer not only a broad range of insurance products underwritten by multiple insurance companies to address the needs of increasingly sophisticated customers with diverse needs and preferences but also quality services backed by our nationwide network.
We focus on offering long-term life and health insurance products including critical illness, endowment life, annuity, whole life and term life insurance and distribute property and casualty insurance products including auto insurance, individual accident insurance, homeowner insurance, liability insurance and travel insurance. We also provide insurance claims adjusting services such as damage assessment and loss estimations.
With strategic focus on long-term life and health insurance products and services, we were one of the first independent insurance agencies to enter China’s life insurance agency market. We began distributing long-term life and health insurance products in 2006 and have become an industry leader after accumulating valuable industry experience for over 10 years.
We have adopted an integrated offline-to-online (“O2O”) operating model. We use our technology platforms to boost efficiency and improve user experience, and rely on our extensive offline distribution and service network to facilitate sales of complex insurance products and offer reliable after-sales services.
We began building online platforms to sell insurance products as early as 2010 and pioneered the adoption of digital technologies in China’s insurance agency industry. To meet demand for different insurance products and services, we have established industry-leading online platforms including Lan Zhanggui, CNpad Auto, Baowang (www.baoxian.com), eHuzhu (www.ehuzhu.com) and Chetong.net. Our technology platforms enable intelligent deal management and streamline and expedite transaction processes, while our offline distribution and service network provides an effective channel for us to engage with and serve our clients. This O2O model significantly enhances our operational efficiency and scalability.
We have an extensive independent insurance product distribution network and comprehensive insurance service network in China. With 670,104 sales agents, 758 sales outlets which include our branches and sub-branches in 22 provinces as of December 31, 2019, our distribution network was the largest among independent insurance agencies in China. With 1,627 claims adjusters in 159 service outlets as of December 31, 2019, our claims adjustment service network covered 31 provinces in China. Our extensive distribution and service network and sizable sales and service work force allow us to engage and serve customers nationwide and serve as a substantial entry barrier to China’s insurance agency industry.
We operate in a fast-growing industry with abundant opportunities. The separation of insurance underwriting and distribution is a significant trend in China’s insurance industry. Historically dominated by in-house sales forces and exclusive agents, insurance distribution channels in China have gradually shifted towards independent insurance agencies, as demand for insurance products and services has diversified in recent years. With strong brand recognition, established relationships with major insurance companies, an extensive distribution and sales network and cutting-edge technology, we intend to take advantage of the opportunities resulting from the growth and transformation of the insurance agency industry in China to increase our market share by aggressively expanding our sales force and offline distribution and service network, broadening our product portfolio and developing our online platforms.
Technological developments and the growth of mobile internet access have significantly changed the way we operate our business. We operate several online platforms, which we define as websites and Internet-enabled applications that aggregate insurance product offerings from various insurance companies:
|●||Lan Zhanggui - an internet-based all-in-one platform which integrates our existing online platforms and allows our agents to access and purchase a wide variety of insurance products, including long term life and health insurance, auto insurance, accident insurance, travel insurance, and standard medical insurance products from multiple insurance companies, through one integrated account on their mobile devices. The platform is available in mobile application and WeChat official account versions. As of March 31, 2020, Lan Zhanggui had approximately 1.2 million registered users.|
|●||CNpad Auto – an internet-based auto insurance portal for our sales agents available in mobile application and WeChat official account versions, through which they can access, compare and purchase auto insurance products from multiple insurance companies on their mobile devices for their clients. CNpad Auto had 632,566 activated accounts as of March 31, 2020.|
|●||Baowang (www.baoxian.com) - an online insurance platform that allows customers to directly compare and shop for hundreds of accident, standard short term health, travel and homeowner insurance products from dozens of insurance companies online. The platform is available in PC-based website, mobile application and WeChat official account versions. As of March 31, 2020, Baowang had over 2.8 million registered members.|
|●||eHuzhu (www.ehuzhu.com) - an online non-profit mutual aid platform that provides low-cost alternative risk-protection programs on a mutual aid basis among program members. eHuzhu primarily offers programs that provide mutual aid for cancer in three different age groups and accidental death. The platform is accessible primarily through its WeChat official account. When a member signs up for a program offered by eHuzhu, he or she agrees to evenly contribute to and is entitled to receive payout from other program members in case of any claims covered under such program. The amount of fund that each member can claim is up to RMB500,000, with the maximum contribution from each member limited to RMB3 for each valid claim. As of March 31, 2020, eHuzhu had attracted approximately 3.4 million paying members.|
As of March 31, 2020, we, through Fanhua Group Company, operated one e-commerce insurance platform and one online mutual aid platform, and controlled twelve insurance intermediary companies in the PRC, of which nine were insurance agencies including two with national operating licenses and three were insurance claims adjusting firms. As of March 31, 2020, we also owned (i) 18.5% of the equity interests in CNFinance Holdings Ltd. (NYSE:CNF), a leading home equity loan service provider, (ii) 4.5% of the equity interests in Puyi Inc. (NASDAQ:PUYI), a leading third party wealth management services provider focusing on mass affluent and emerging middle class population, and (iii) 14.9% of the equity interests in Shenzhen Chetong Network Co., Ltd., an online insurance claims services provider.
On April 3, 2020, we entered into a framework strategic partnership agreement, or the Agreement, with Fanhua Puyi. Pursuant to the Agreement, both parties, on the basis of full compliance with relevant regulatory and legal requirements , will share customer and channel resources and explore collaboration opportunities on the provision of value-added asset management services to Chinese households, by leveraging both parties’ respective strength in insurance and financial services.
As of December 31, 2019, we operated two segments: (1) the insurance agency segment, which mainly consists of providing agency services for P&C insurance products and life insurance products to individual clients, and (2) the claims adjusting segment, which consists of providing pre-underwriting survey services, claim adjusting services, disposal of residual value services, loading and unloading supervision services, and consulting services.
Insurance Agency Segment
Our insurance agency segment accounted for 90.6% and 90.0% of our net revenues from continuing operations in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Revenue from this segment is derived from two broad categories of insurance products: (i) property and casualty insurance products, and (ii) life and health insurance products, both primarily focused on meeting the insurance needs of individuals.
Life and health Insurance Products
Our life and health insurance business accounted for 86.2% of our net revenues from continuing operations in 2019. We expect the sale of life insurance products to be the major source of our revenue in the next several years. The life and health insurance products we distribute can be broadly classified into the categories set forth below. Due to constant product innovation by insurance companies, some of the insurance products we distribute combine features of one or more of the categories listed below:
|●||Individual Health Insurance. The individual health insurance products we distribute primarily consist of critical illness insurance products, which provide guaranteed benefits when the insured is diagnosed with specified serious illnesses, and medical insurance products, which provide conditional reimbursement for medical expenses during the coverage period. In return, the insured makes periodic payment of premiums over a pre-determined period.|
|●||Individual Annuity. The individual annuity products we distribute generally provide annual benefit payments after the insured attains a certain age, or for a fixed time period, and provide a lump sum payment at the end of the coverage period. In addition, the beneficiary designated in the annuity contract will receive guaranteed benefits upon the death of the insured during the coverage period. In return, the purchaser of the annuity products makes periodic payments of premiums during a pre-determined accumulation period.|
|●||Individual Whole Life Insurance. The individual whole life insurance products we distribute provide insurance for the insured person’s entire life in exchange for the periodic payment of fixed premiums over a pre-determined period, generally ranging from five to 20 years, or until the insured reaches a certain age. The face amount of the policy or, for some policies, the face amount plus accumulated interest is paid upon the death of the insured.|
|●||Individual Term Life Insurance. The individual term life insurance products we distribute provide insurance coverage for the insured for a specified time period or until the attainment of a certain age, in return for the periodic payment of fixed premiums over a pre-determined period, generally ranging from five to 20 years. Term life insurance policies generally expire without value if the insured survives the coverage period.|
|●||Individual Endowment Life Insurance. The individual endowment products we distribute generally provide insurance coverage for the insured for a specified time period and maturity benefits if the insured reaches a specified age. The individual endowment products we distribute also provide to a beneficiary designated by the insured guaranteed benefits upon the death of the insured within the coverage period. In return, the insured makes periodic payment of premiums over a pre-determined period, generally ranging from five to 25 years.|
|●||Participating Insurance. The participating insurance products we distribute not only provide insurance coverage but also pay dividends generated from the profits of the insurance company providing the policy. The dividends are typically paid on an annual basis over the life of the policy. In return, the insured makes periodic payments of premiums over a pre-determined period, generally ranging from five to 25 years.|
The life insurance products we distributed in 2019 were primarily underwritten by Huaxia, Aeon, Sinatay, Tian’an and Evergrande.
Property and Casualty Insurance Products
Our property and casualty insurance business accounted for 3.8% of our net revenues from continuing operations in 2019, primarily representing insurance products we distributed through Baowang, and CNpad Auto to a lesser degree. Our main property and casualty insurance product in terms of net revenues contribution in 2019 is individual accident insurance which we distribute through Baowang. In addition, we also offer travel insurance, homeowner insurance and other property and casualty products on Baowang and facilitate the sale of individual auto insurance through CNpad Auto. The major property and casualty insurance products we offer or facilitate to individual customers can be further classified into the following categories:
|●||Individual Accident Insurance. The individual accident insurance products we distribute generally provide a guaranteed benefit during the coverage period, which is usually one year or a shorter period, in the event of death or disability of the insured as a result of an accident, or a reimbursement of medical expenses to the insured in connection with an accident. These products typically require only a single premium payment for each coverage period. Because most of the individual accident insurance products we distribute are underwritten by property and casualty insurance companies, we classify individual accident insurance products as property and casualty insurance products.|
|●||Travel Insurance. The travel insurance products we distribute are short-term insurance providing guaranteed benefit in the event of death or disability and covering travel-related emergencies and losses, either within one’s own country, or internationally. These products typically require only a single premium payment for each coverage period.|
|●||Homeowner Insurance. The homeowner insurance products we distribute primarily cover damages to the insured house, along with furniture and household electrical appliance in the house caused by a number of incidents such as fire, flood and explosion.|
|●||Short term health insurance. The short term health insurance products we facilitate typically have a one-year term and provide conditional reimbursement for medical and surgical expenses incurred for treating illnesses during the coverage period. These products typically require only a single premium payment for each coverage period. Because most of these short-term health insurance products we distribute are underwritten by property and casualty insurance companies, we classify short-term health products as property and casualty insurance products.|
|●||Auto Insurance. We facilitate both standard auto insurance policies and supplemental policies, which we refer to as riders. The standard auto insurance policies we facilitate generally have a term of one year and cover damages caused to the insured vehicle by collision and other traffic accidents, falling or flying objects, fire, explosion and natural disasters. We also facilitate standard third-party liability insurance policies, which cover bodily injury and property damage caused by an accident involving an insured vehicle to a person not in the insured vehicle. The riders we facilitate cover additional losses, such as liability to passengers, losses arising from vehicle theft and robbery, broken glass and vehicle body scratches.|
We primarily partnered with Alliance Property and Casualty Insurance Company Limited, Ping An Property and Casualty Insurance Company Limited, or Ping An, Taikang Online Property and Casualty Insurance Company Limited, Zhong An Online Property and Casualty Insurance Company Limited, and Asia Pacific Property and Casualty Insurance Co., Ltd., or Asia Pacific P&C for the distribution of property and casualty insurance products in 2019.
Claims Adjusting Segment
Total net revenues derived from our claims adjusting segment accounted for 9.4% and 10.0% of our total net revenues in 2018 and 2019, respectively. We offer the following insurance claims adjusting services:
|●||Pre-underwriting Survey. Before an insurance policy is sold, we conduct a survey of the item to be insured to assess its current value and help our clients determine the insurable value and the amount to be insured. We also help our clients assess the underwriting risk with respect to the item to be insured through surveys, appraisals and analysis.|
|●||Claims Adjusting. When an accident involving the insured subject matter has occurred, we conduct an onsite survey to determine the cause of the accident and assess damage. We then determine the extent of the loss to the insured subject matter and prepare and submit a report to the insurance company summarizing our preliminary findings. Upon final conclusion of the case, we prepare and submit a detailed report to the insurance company setting forth details of the accident, cause of the loss, details of the loss, adjustment and determination of loss, an indemnity proposal and, where appropriate, a request for payment.|
|●||Disposal of Residual Value. In the course of providing claims adjusting services, we also can appraise the residual value of the insured property and offer suggestions on the disposal of such property. Upon appointment by the insurance company, we handle the actual disposal of the insured property through auction, discounted sale, lease or other means.|
|●||Loading and Unloading Supervision. Upon appointment by ship owners, shippers, consignees or insurance companies, we can monitor and record the loading and unloading processes of specific cargos.|
|●||Consulting Services. We provide consulting services to both the insured and the insurance companies on risk assessment and management, disaster and damage prevention, investigation, and loss assessment.|
We primarily provided claims adjusting services to Ping An, China Pacific Property and Casualty Insurance Company Limited, China Life Property and Casualty Insurance Company Limited, Dinghe Property and Casualty Insurance Company Limited and Asia Pacific P&C in 2019.
As competition intensifies and the insurance market becomes more mature in China, we believe there will be a further division of labor in the insurance intermediary sector. We expect that more insurance companies will choose to outsource claims adjusting functions to professional service providers while they focus on the core aspects of their business, including product development and asset and risk management. We believe we are well-positioned to capture such outsourcing opportunities.
See “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects — A. Operating Results — Factors Affecting Our Results of Operations — Seasonality.”
Distribution and Service Network and Marketing
We have an offline distribution and service network that, as of March 31, 2020, consisted of one insurance sales and service group, nines insurance agencies including two with national operating licenses, and three claims adjusting firms, with 922 sales and service branches and outlets, 650,065 registered independent sales agents and 1,668 in-house claims adjustors. Our distribution and service network consisted of 763 sales outlets in 22 provinces and 159 claims services outlets in 31 provinces.
|Province||Number of Sales and Service Outlets||Number of Sales Agents||Number of In-house Adjustors|
The following table sets forth additional information concerning our distribution and service network as of March 31, 2020, broken down by provinces:
We market and sell long-term personal lines of life and health insurance products and property and casualty insurance products to customers through mainly independent sales agents, who are not our employees. We also market and sell accident, short-term health, travel and homeowner insurance products directly to customers through our online platform Baowang (www.baoxian.com). We market and sell insurance claims adjusting services primarily to insurance companies through our in-house professional claims adjustors and to non-affiliated service representatives through Chetong.net, an online service platform, by bidding for claims adjusting business contracts.
We sell life and health insurance products including critical illness, endowment insurance, annuity insurance, whole life insurance and term life insurance primarily to individual customers as well as property and casualty insurance products including automobile insurance, individual accident insurance, homeowner insurance products, liability insurance and travel insurance. Customers for the life insurance products we distribute are primarily individuals under 50 years of age. For the year ended December 31, 2019, no single individual customer who has purchased insurance products through us accounted for more than 1% of our net revenues. Our customers for the claims adjusting services are primarily insurance companies and online mutual-aid platforms.
As of December 31, 2019, we had accumulated approximately 11 million individual customers, of which 1.1 million have purchased at least one regular long term life and health insurance policy. By providing certain value-added services to these customers at no additional charge, we seek to build a loyal customer base that generates referrals and cross-selling opportunities.
Insurance Company Partners
As of March 31, 2020, we had established business relationships with 103 insurance companies in the PRC. In the Chinese insurance market, local branches of insurance companies generally have the authority to enter into contracts in their own names with insurance intermediaries. Since 2007, we have sought to establish business relationships with insurance companies at the corporate headquarters level in order to leverage the combined sales volumes of all our subsidiaries located in different parts of China. For the distribution of insurance products, we had outstanding contracts with 35 life insurance companies, four health insurance companies and 19 property and casualty insurance companies, which were all signed at the corporate headquarter level as of March 31, 2020. For the provision of claims adjusting services, we also had outstanding contracts with 58 insurance companies, and 5 insurance brokerage firms and 10 other institutions as of March 31, 2020.
Insurance Aggregator Site Partners
In October 2017, we shifted to a platform business model for our auto insurance business. Under the new business model, we no longer enter into contracts with property and casualty insurance companies for the distribution of auto insurance products through our individual sales agents to earn profits from the commission spread. Rather, we operate CNpad Auto as an auto insurance transaction portal which connects insurance distributors with our sales agents and received technology service fees from distributors which provide auto insurance products on CNpad Auto based on the volume of insurance premiums they transact through CNpad Auto. A technology service fee is typically much smaller than the commission we previously received from insurance companies, though our costs are generally minimal. From 2018, we started partnering with third party online auto insurance platforms, for the facilitation of auto insurance products, by introducing agent traffic to these platforms. In 2019, net revenues derived from our cooperation with these platforms accounting less than 1% of our total property and casualty insurance net revenues. We stopped charging this technology service fee starting from the fourth quarter of 2019.
A number of industry players are involved in the distribution of insurance products in the PRC. We compete for customers on the basis of product offerings, customer services and reputation. Because we primarily distribute individual insurance products, our principal competitors include:
|●||Professional insurance intermediaries. The professional insurance intermediary sector in China is highly fragmented, accounting for only 12.7% of the total insurance premiums generated in China in 2018, according to statistics released by the CBIRC at the 2019 Insurance Intermediary Supervision and Administration Work Conference. Several insurance intermediary companies have received private equity or venture capital funding in recent years and are actively pursuing expansion. We believe that we can compete effectively with these insurance intermediary companies with our long operating history, strong brand recognition, a strong and stable team of managers and sales professionals, leading online platforms and diversified product offerings. With increasing consolidation expected in the insurance intermediary sector in the coming years, we expect competition within this sector to intensify.|
|●||Insurance companies. The distribution of individual life insurance products in China historically has been dominated by insurance companies, which usually use both in-house sales forces and exclusive sales agents to distribute their own products. In addition, in recent years several major insurance companies have increasingly used telemarketing and the Internet to distribute insurance. We believe that we can compete effectively with insurance companies because we focus only on distribution and offer our customers a broad range of insurance products underwritten by multiple insurance companies.|
|●||Entities that offer insurance products online. In recent years, domestic insurance companies, Internet companies and professional insurance intermediaries have begun to engage in the Internet insurance business. However, each of their insurance e-commerce operations has its own limitations. The insurance products offered on an insurance company’s website are usually confined to those under its own brand. Most Internet companies have limited experience in insurance operation with limited or no offline sales and service support. Our better brand recognition, larger sales scale and broader sales and service network also differentiate us from other professional insurance intermediaries. We believe that we can compete effectively with these business entities because our online insurance platforms offer users access to a broad range of insurance products underwritten by multiple insurance companies’ good after-sale services that are backed by our nation-wide service network and better user experience.|
|●||Other business entities. In recent years, business entities that distribute insurance products as an ancillary business, primarily commercial banks and postal offices, have been playing an increasingly important role in the distribution of insurance products, especially life insurance products. However, the insurance products distributed by these entities are mostly confined to those related to their main lines of business, such as investment-related life insurance products. We believe that we can compete effectively with these business entities because we offer our customers a broader variety of products.|
We compete primarily with the other major claims adjusting firms in China, particularly Min Tai’an Insurance Surveyors & Loss Adjusters Co., Ltd., or Min Tai’an. We believe that we can compete effectively with Min Tai’an and other major insurance claims adjusting firms because we offer our customers a diversified range of claims adjusting services covering property insurance, auto insurance marine and cargo insurance, and personal injury and accident and are able to leverage the business relationships we have developed with insurance companies through the distribution of property and casualty insurance products.
Our brand, trade names, trademarks, trade secrets and other intellectual property rights distinguish our business platform, services and products from those of our competitors and contribute to our competitive advantage in the professional insurance intermediary sector. To protect our intellectual property, we rely on a combination of trademark, copyright and trade secret laws as well as confidentiality agreements with our employees, sales agents, contractors and others. As of March 31, 2020, we had 33 registered trademarks in China, including our corporate logo. Our main website is www.fanhuaholdings.com.
Regulations of the Insurance Industry
The insurance industry in the PRC is highly regulated. Between 1998 and March 2018, CIRC was the regulatory authority responsible for the supervision of the Chinese insurance industry. In March 2018, the CBIRC, was established as the result of the merger between CIRC and CBRC, replacing CIRC as the regulatory authority for the supervision of the Chinese insurance industry. Insurance activities undertaken within the PRC are primarily governed by the Insurance Law and the related rules and regulations.
Initial Development of Regulatory Framework
The Chinese Insurance Law was enacted in 1995. The original insurance law, which we refer to as the 1995 Insurance Law, provided the initial framework for regulating the domestic insurance industry. Among the steps taken under the 1995 Insurance Law were the following:
|●||Licensing of insurance companies and insurance intermediaries, such as agencies and brokerages. The 1995 Insurance Law established requirements for minimum registered capital levels, form of organization, qualification of senior management and adequacy of the information systems for insurance companies and insurance agencies and brokerages.|
|●||Separation of property and casualty insurance businesses and life insurance businesses. The 1995 Insurance Law classified insurance between property, casualty, liability and credit insurance businesses, on the one hand, and life, accident and health insurance businesses on the other, and prohibited insurance companies from engaging in both types of businesses.|
|●||Regulation of market conduct by participants. The 1995 Insurance Law prohibited fraudulent and other unlawful conduct by insurance companies, agencies and brokerages.|
|●||Substantive regulation of insurance products. The 1995 Insurance Law gave insurance regulators the authority to approve the basic policy terms and premium rates for major insurance products.|
|●||Financial condition and performance of insurance companies. The 1995 Insurance Law established reserve and solvency standards for insurance companies, imposed restrictions on investment powers and established mandatory reinsurance requirements, and put in place a reporting regime to facilitate monitoring by insurance regulators.|
|●||Supervisory and enforcement powers of the principal regulatory authority. The principal regulatory authority, then the PBOC, was given broad powers under the 1995 Insurance Law to regulate the insurance industry.|
Establishment of the CIRC and 2002 Amendments to the Insurance Law
China’s insurance regulatory regime was further strengthened with the establishment of the CIRC in 1998. The CIRC was given the mandate to implement reform in the insurance industry, minimize insolvency risk for Chinese insurers and promote the development of the insurance market.
The 1995 Insurance Law was amended in 2002 and the amended insurance law, which we refer to as the 2002 Insurance Law, became effective on January 1, 2003. The major amendments to the 1995 Insurance Law include:
|●||Authorizing the CIRC to be the insurance supervisory and regulatory body nationwide. The 2002 Insurance Law expressly grants the CIRC the authority to supervise and administer the insurance industry nationwide.|
|●||Expanding the permitted scope of business of property and casualty insurers. Under the 2002 Insurance Law, property and casualty insurance companies may engage in the short-term health insurance and accident insurance businesses upon the CIRC’s approval.|
|●||Providing additional guidelines for the relationship between insurance companies and insurance agents. The 2002 Insurance Law requires an insurance company to enter into an agent agreement with each insurance agent that will act as an agent for that insurance company. The agent agreement sets forth the rights and obligations of the parties to the agreement as well as other matters pursuant to law. An insurance company is responsible for the acts of its agents when the acts are within the scope authorized by the insurance company.|
|●||Relaxing restrictions on the use of funds by insurance companies. Under the 2002 Insurance Law, an insurance company may use its funds to make equity investments in insurance-related enterprises, such as asset management companies.|
|●||Allowing greater freedom for insurance companies to develop insurance products. The 2002 Insurance Law allowed insurance companies to set their own policy terms and premium rates, subject to the approval of, or a filing with, the CIRC.|
2009 Amendments to the Insurance Law
The 2002 Insurance Law was amended again in 2009 and the amended insurance law, which we refer to as the 2009 Insurance Law, became effective on October 1, 2009. The major amendments to the 2009 Insurance Law include:
|●||Strengthening protection of the insured’s interests. The 2009 Insurance Law added a variety of clauses such as incontestable clause, abstained and estoppels clause, common disaster clause and amending immunity clause, claims-settlement prescription clause, reasons for claims rejection and contract modification clause.|
|●||Strengthening supervision on the qualification of the shareholders of the insurance companies and setting forth specific qualification requirements for the major shareholders, directors, supervisors and senior managers of insurance companies.|
|●||Expanding the business scope of insurers and further relaxing restriction on the use of fund by insurers.|
|●||Strengthening supervision on solvency of insurers with stricter measures.|
|●||Tightening regulations governing the administration of insurance intermediary companies, especially those relating to behaviors of insurance agents.|
According to the 2009 Insurance Law, the minimum registered capital required to establish an insurance agency or insurance brokerage as a company must comply with the PRC Company Law. The registered capital or the capital contribution of insurance agencies or insurance brokerages must be paid-up capital in cash. The 2009 Insurance Law also sets forth some specific qualification requirements for insurance agency and brokerage practitioners. The senior managers of insurance agencies or insurance brokerages must meet specific qualification requirements, and their appointments are subject to approval of the CIRC. Personnel of an insurance agency or insurance brokerage engaging in the sales of insurance products must meet the qualification requirements set by the CIRC and obtain a qualification certificate issued by the CIRC. Under the 2009 Insurance Law, the parties to an insurance transaction may engage insurance adjusting firms or other independent appraisal firms that are established in accordance with applicable laws, or persons who possess the requisite professional expertise, to conduct assessment and adjustment of the insured subject matters. Additionally, the 2009 Insurance Law specifies additional legal obligations for insurance agencies and brokerages.
2014 Amendments to the Insurance Law
The 2002 Insurance Law was amended again in 2014 and the amended insurance law, which we refer to as the 2014 Insurance Law, became effective on August 31, 2014. The major amendments of the 2014 Insurance Law include:
|●||Relaxing restrictions on actuaries. The 2014 Insurance Law no longer requires Insurance companies shall employ actuaries recognized by the insurance regulatory authority under the State Council. However, an insurance company shall also engage professionals, and establish an actuarial reporting system and a compliance reporting system as before.|
2015 Amendments to the Insurance Law
The 2014 Insurance Law was amended again in 2015 and the amended insurance law, which we refer to as the 2015 Insurance Law, became effective on April 24, 2015. The major amendments of the 2015 Insurance Law include:
|●||Eliminating the requirement for an insurance agent or broker to obtain a qualification certificate issued by the CIRC before providing any insurance agency or brokerage services.|
|●||Relaxing the requirement for the establishment or other significant corporate events of an insurance agency or brokerage firm. For example, an insurance agency or brokerage firm is allowed to apply for a business permit from the CIRC and a business license from the local AIC simultaneously under the 2015 Insurance Law, while an insurance agency or brokerage firm had to apply for and receive a business permit issued by the CIRC before it could apply for a business license from and register with the relevant local AIC under the 2014 Insurance Law. Prior approval by the CIRC is no longer required for the divesture or mergers of insurance agencies or brokerage firms, the change of their organizational form, or the establishment or winding-up of a branch by an insurance agency or brokerage firm.|
The CIRC and the CBIRC
The CBIRC, which was formed by the merger of China Banking Regulatory Commission (“CBRC”) and CIRC in March, 2018, inherits the authority of CIRC, has extensive authority to supervise insurance companies and insurance intermediaries operating in the PRC, including the power to:
|●||promulgate regulations applicable to the Chinese insurance industry;|
|●||investigate insurance companies and insurance intermediaries;|
|●||establish investment regulations;|
|●||approve policy terms and premium rates for certain insurance products;|
|●||set the standards for measuring the financial soundness of insurance companies and insurance intermediaries;|
|●||require insurance companies and insurance intermediaries to submit reports concerning their business operations and condition of assets;|
|●||order the suspension of all or part of an insurance company or an insurance intermediary’s business;|
|●||approve the establishment, change and dissolution of an insurance company, an insurance intermediary or their branches;|
|●||review and approve the appointment of senior managers of an insurance company, an insurance intermediary or their branches; and|
|●||punish insurance companies or intermediaries for improper behaviors or misconducts.|
Regulation of Insurance Agencies
The principal regulation governing insurance agencies in China is the Provisions on the Supervision and Administration of Professional Insurance Agencies, or the POSAPIA, promulgated by the CIRC on September 25, 2009 and effective on October 1, 2009, which has been amended by (i) the Decision on Revising the POSAPIA issued by the CIRC and effective on April 27, 2013, and (ii) the second amendment to the POSAPIA issued by the CIRC and effective on October 19, 2015. According to the POSPIA, the establishment of an insurance agency is subject to minimum registered capital requirement and other requirements and to the approval of the CIRC. The term “insurance agency” refers to an entity that meets the qualification requirements specified by the CIRC, has obtained the license to conduct an insurance agency business with the approval of the CIRC, engages in the insurance business by and within the authorization of, and which collects commissions from, insurance companies. An insurance agency may take any of the following forms: (i) a limited liability company; or (ii) a joint stock limited company. According to the CIRC’s Decision on Revising the Regulatory Provisions on Professional Insurance Agencies, or the Insurance Agency Decision, promulgated on April 27, 2013, unless otherwise stipulated by the CIRC, the minimum registered capital for establishing a new insurance agency is RMB50 million instead of RMB2 million for a regional insurance agency and RMB10 million for a nationwide insurance agency as previously required. An additional increase of registered capital is no longer required to establish a branch or sales office. Pursuant to the Notice of the CIRC on Further Clarifying Certain Issues Relating to the Access to the Professional Insurance Intermediary Market, a professional insurance agency that was established prior to the promulgation of the Insurance Agency Decision and has a registered capital of no more than RMB50 million may apply to establish branches only in the province in which it is registered. A professional insurance agency company that was established prior to the promulgation of the Insurance Agency Decision, has a registered capital of not more than RMB50 million and has already established branches in provinces other than its place of registration may apply to establish additional branches in those provinces. An insurance agency may engage in the following insurance agency businesses:
|●||selling insurance products on behalf of the insurance companies;|
|●||collecting insurance premiums on behalf of the insurance companies;|
|●||conducting loss surveys and handling claims of insurance businesses on behalf of the insurer principal; and|
|●||other business activities approved by the CIRC.|
The name of an insurance agency must contain the words “insurance agency” or “insurance sales.” The license of an insurance agency is valid for a period of three years. An insurance agency shall submit a written report to the CIRC within five days from the date of occurrence of any of the following matters:(i) change of name or a branch’s name;(ii) change of domicile or a branch’s business premises;(iii) change of names of sponsors or major shareholders;(iv) change of major shareholders;(v) change of registered capital;(vi) major changes to equity structure;(vii) amendment to the articles of association; (viii) divestment of a branch; (ix) establishment of a branch; (x) spin-off of or merger with an insurance agency or (xi) changes of organizational form. According to the Measures on the Supervision and Administration of Insurance Brokers and Insurance Claims Adjustors issued by the CIRC in January 2013, personnel of an insurance agency and its branches engaging in the sales of insurance products or relevant loss survey and claim settlement shall comply with the conditions prescribed by the CIRC. The senior managers of an insurance agency or its branches must meet specific qualification requirements set forth in the revised Regulatory Provisions on Professional Insurance Agencies. The appointment of the senior managers of an insurance agency or its branches is subject to review and approval of the CIRC.
Regulation of Insurance Brokerages
The principal regulation governing insurance brokerages is the Provisions on the Supervision and Administration of Insurance Brokers, or the POSAIB, promulgated by the CIRC on February 1, 2018 and effective May 1, 2018, replacing the Provisions on the Supervision of Insurance Brokerages issued on September 18, 2009, as amended on April 27, 2013, and the Measures on the Supervision and Administration of Insurance Brokers and Insurance Claims Adjustors issued by the CIRC on January 6, 2013.
The term of “insurance broker” refers to an entity which, representing the interests of insurance applicants, acts as an intermediary between insurance applicants and insurance companies for entering into insurance contracts, and collects commissions for the provision of such brokering services. The term of “insurance brokerage practitioner” refers to a person affiliated with an insurance broker who drafts insurance application proposals or handle the insurance application formalities for insurance applicants or the insured or assists insurance applicants or the insured in claiming compensation or who provides clients with disaster or loss prevention or risk assessment or management consulting services or engages in reinsurance brokerage, among others.
To engage in insurance brokerage business within the territory of the PRC, an insurance brokerage shall satisfy the requirements prescribed by the CIRC and obtain an insurance brokerage business permit issued by the CIRC, after obtaining a business license. An insurance brokerage may take any of the following forms: (i) a limited liability company; or (ii) a joint stock limited company.
The minimum registered capital of an insurance brokerage company whose business area is not limited to the province in which it is registered is RMB50 million while the minimum registered capital of an insurance brokerage company whose business area is limited to its place of registration is RMB10 million.
The name of an insurance broker shall include the words “insurance brokerage.” An insurance brokerage must register the information of its affiliated insurance brokerage practitioners with the IISIS. One person can only be registered with the IISIS through one insurance brokerage.
An insurance brokerage may conduct the following insurance brokering businesses:
|●||making insurance proposals, selecting insurance companies and handling the insurance application procedures for the insurance applicants;|
|●||assisting the insured or the beneficiary to claim compensation;|
|●||reinsurance brokering business;|
|●||providing consulting services to clients with respect to disaster and damage prevention, risk assessment and risk management; and|
|●||other business activities approved by the CIRC.|
An insurance brokerage shall submit a written report to the CIRC through the IISIS and make public disclosure within five days from the date of occurrence of any of the following matters: (i) change of name, domicile or business premises; (ii) change of shareholders, registered capital or form of organization; (iii) change of names of shareholders or capital contributions; (iv) amendment to the articles of association; (v) equity investment, establishment of offshore insurance related entities or non-operational organizations; (vi) division, merger and dissolution or termination of insurance brokering business activities of its branches; (vii) change of the primary person in charge of its branches other than provincial branches; (viii) being a subject of administrative or criminal penalties, or under investigation for suspected involvement in any violation of law or a crime; and (x) other reportable events prescribed by the CIRC.
Insurance brokerage and its practitioners are not allowed to sell non-insurance financial products, except for those products approved by relevant financial regulatory institutions and the insurance brokerage and its practitioners shall obtain relevant qualification in order to sell non-insurance related financial products that meets regulatory requirements.
Personnel of an insurance brokerage and its branches who engage in any of the insurance brokering businesses described above must comply with the qualification requirements prescribed by the CIRC. The senior managers of an insurance brokerage must meet specific qualification requirements set forth in the POSAIB.
Regulation of Insurance Claims Adjusting Firms
The principal regulation governing insurance adjusting firms is the Provisions on the Supervision and Administration of Insurance Claims Adjustors, or the POSAICA, issued by the CIRC on February 1, 2018 and effective on May 1, 2018, replacing the Provisions on the Supervision of Insurance Claims Adjusting Firms effective on October 1, 2009, as amended on September 29, 2013 and 2015, and the Regulation of Insurance Brokers and Insurance Adjustors effective on July 1, 2013.
According to the POSAICA, the term “insurance adjustment” refers to the assessment, survey, authentication, loss estimation and relevant risk assessment of the insured subject matters or the insurance incidents conducted by an appraisal firm and its professional appraisers upon the entrustment of the parties concerned. The term of “insurance adjusting firm” refers to an entity and any of its branches which engages in the aforementioned businesses.
The term “insurance adjustment practitioner” refers to a person retained by an insurance claims adjusting firm to conduct the following activities on behalf of an entruster: i) inspecting, appraising the value of and assessing the risks of the subject matter before and after it is insured; ii) surveying, inspecting, estimating the loss of, adjusting and disposing of the residual value of the insured subject matter after loss has been incurred; and iii) risk management consulting.
Insurance adjustment practitioners include claims adjustors and assessment practitioners with claims adjustment knowledge and practical experience. A claims adjustor refers to an individual who has passed the qualification examination for the insurance claims adjustors organized by the CIRC.
An insurance claims adjusting firm must meet the requirements prescribed by the China Asset Appraisal Law and applicable regulations issued by the CIRC and must file its business records with the CIRC and its local offices.
According to the regulation, an insurance adjusting firm should take the form of a company or a partnership in accordance with applicable law and retains claims adjustment practitioners to engage in insurance claims adjusting businesses. A claims adjusting firm in the form of a partnership must have at least two claims adjustors and two third of its partners should be claims adjustors who have least three years’ working experience in claims adjustment and have no record of administrative penalties in relations to claims adjustment activities in the past three years. A claims adjusting firm in the form of a company must have at least eight claims adjustors and two shareholders among which at least two third are claims adjustors who have least three years’ working experience in claims adjustment and have no record of administrative penalties in relations to claims adjustment activities in the past three years.
The establishment of an insurance claims adjusting firm only requires the application for a business license from and registration with the AIC, instead of both applying for business license and obtaining approval by the CIRC as previously required.
A claims adjusting firm may include a nationwide claims adjusting firm and regional claims adjusting firm. A nationwide claims adjusting firm can conduct business within the territory of the PRC and can establish branches in provinces other than its place of registration while a regional one can only conduct business and establish branches in the province where it is registered. A claims adjusting firm in the form of a company must file its business record with the CIRC if it is a nationwide claims adjusting firm or file with the local offices of the CIRC in the region where it is registered if it is a regional claims adjusting firm. A partnership firm must file its business record with the CIRC.
An insurance claims adjusting firm must meet certain requirements in order to engage in claims adjustment business which include, among others, i) its shareholders or its partners must meet the requirements mentioned above and its capital contribution must be self-owned, actual and lawful and must not be non-self-owned capital in various forms such as bank loan; and ii) it must have adequate working capital to support its day-to-day operation and risk undertaking in accordance with its business development plan. A nationwide entity must have at least RMB2 million working capital while a regional one must have at least RMB1 million.
An insurance adjusting firm may engage in the following businesses:
Upon approval of the CIRC, an insurance adjusting firm may engage in the following businesses:
|●||inspecting, appraising the value of and assessing the risks of the subject matter before and after it is insured;|
|●||surveying, inspecting, estimating the loss of, adjusting and disposing of the insured subject matter after loss has been incurred;|
|●||risk management consulting; and|
|●||other business activities approved by the CIRC.|
The name of an insurance adjusting firm must contain the words “insurance adjusting” and must avoid duplicating names of existing insurance claims adjusting firms. In any of the following situations, an insurance adjusting firm shall submit a written report to the CIRC when it within five days from the date the resolution for change has been passed: (i) change of name, domicile or business premises; (ii) change of shareholders or partners; (iii) change of registered capital or form of organization; (iv) change of names of shareholders or partners or capital contributions; (v) amendment to the articles of association or the partnership agreement; (vi) equity investment, establishment of offshore insurance related entities or non-operational organization; (vii) division, merger and dissolution or termination of insurance claims adjustment business of its branches; (viii) change of chairman of its board of directors, executive directors or senior management; (ix) being a subject of administrative or criminal penalties, or under investigation for suspected involvement in a crime; and (x) other reportable events specified by the CIRC.
Personnel of an insurance adjusting firm or its branches engaged in any of the insurance adjusting businesses described above must comply with the qualification requirements prescribed by the CIRC. The senior managers of an insurance adjusting firm must meet specific qualification requirements set forth in the PSICA.
An insurance claims adjustment practitioner must join an insurance claims adjusting firm in order to conduct insurance claims adjustment activities. The insurance claims adjusting firm to which he or she belongs must register his or her information with the CIRC’s Insurance Intermediary Supervision Information System or IISIS. One person can only conduct insurance adjustment activities for one insurance claims adjusting firm and can only be registered with the IISIS through one insurance claims adjusting firm.
At least two insurance claims adjustment practitioners must be appointed to undertake each case of insurance claims adjustment businesses and the claims adjustment report shall be signed by at least two insurance claims adjustment practitioners engaged in the claims adjustment activities and chopped by the claims adjusting firm to which he or she belongs.
Regulation of Ancillary-Business Insurance Agencies
The principal regulation governing ancillary-business insurance agencies is the Interim Measures on the Administration of Ancillary-Business Insurance Agency issued by the CIRC on and effective as of August 4, 2000. The term “ancillary-business insurance agencies” refer to entities that are engaged by insurers to handle insurance business on behalf of insurers while concurrently engaging in another non-insurance-related business. Ancillary-business insurance agencies must meet the qualifications requirements set forth in this regulation. Upon reviewing and approving the qualifications of an entity applying to become an ancillary-business insurance agency, the CIRC will issue a “License for Ancillary-Business Insurance Agency,” which will be valid for three years. An ancillary-business insurance agency may only undertake insurance business on behalf of one insurance company, and the scope of the undertaken business is limited to the scope specified in the License for Ancillary- Business Insurance Agency.
Regulation of Insurance Salespersons
The principal regulation governing individual insurance salespersons is the Measures on the Supervision and Administration of Insurance Salespersons issued by the CIRC on January 6, 2013 and effective on July 1, 2013, which replaced the Provisions on the Administration of Insurance Salespersons promulgated on April 6, 2006 and effective on July 1, 2006. Under this regulation, the term “insurance salesperson” refers to an individual who sells insurance products for an insurance company, including those who are engaged by insurance companies or by insurance agencies. A person must be registered with the CIRC’s Insurance Intermediaries Regulatory Information System and obtain a “Practice Certificate of Insurance Salespersons” issued by the insurance company or insurance agency to which he or she belongs in order to conduct insurance sales activities.
Pursuant to the 2015 Insurance Law and the amended POSPIA, a sales person is no longer required to pass the qualification examination organized by the CIRC or insurance industry committees to obtain a Qualification Certificate.
Regulation of Insurance Intermediary Service Group Companies
The principal regulation governing insurance intermediary groups is the Provisional Measures for Supervision and Administration of the Insurance Intermediary Service Group Companies (for Trial Implementation) issued by the CIRC on September 22, 2011 with immediate effect. According to the regulation, the term “insurance intermediary service group company” refers to a professional insurance intermediary company that is established in accordance with applicable laws and regulations and with the approval of the CIRC that exercises sole or shared control of, or is able to exert major influence over, at least two subsidiaries that are professional insurance intermediary companies primarily engaged in the insurance intermediary business.
An insurance intermediary service group company must have:
|●||a registered capital of at least RMB100 million;|
|●||no record of material violation by investors of applicable laws and regulations in the previous three years;|
|●||at least five subsidiaries, among which at least two are professional insurance intermediary companies which contribute at least 50% of the total revenues of the group;|
|●||chairman (Executive director) and the senior management with qualifications stipulated by the CIRC;|
|●||perfect governance structure, sound organization, effective risk management and internal control management system; and|
|●||business premises and office equipment which are suitable for the development of the businesses.|
The name of an insurance intermediary service group must contain the words “Group” or “Holding.” Its principal business must be equity investment, management and provision of supporting services. An insurance intermediary service group company shall, submit a written report to the CIRC and its local counterparts at the place of registration within five working days after the date of occurrence of the following: (i) changing its registered name or address; (ii) changing its registered capital; (iii) changing its equity structure by more than 5% or shareholders holding more than 5% of shares; (iv) changing its articles of association; (v) establishing, acquiring, merging or closing its subsidiary; (vi) engaging in related party transactions between member companies; (vii) disincorporating; (viii) significantly changing its business scope; or (ix) making a major strategic investment, suffering a significant investment loss or experiencing other material events or emergencies that affect or may affect the business management, financial status or risk control of the group. Senior managers of an insurance intermediary service group company must meet specific qualification requirements and appointment of the senior managers of an insurance intermediary service group company is subject to review and approval by the CIRC.
Content Related to Insurance Industry in the Legal Documents of China’s Accession to the WTO
According to the Circular of the CIRC on Distributing the Content Related to Insurance Industry in the Legal Documents of China’s Accession to the World Trade Organization, or WTO, for the life insurance sector, within three years of China’s accession to the WTO on December 11, 2001, geographical restrictions were to be lifted, equity joint venture companies allowed to provide health insurance, group insurance, and pension/annuity services to Chinese citizens and foreign citizens, and for there to be no other restrictions except those on the proportion of foreign investment (no more than 50%) and establishment conditions. For the non-life insurance sector, within three years of China’s accession, the geographical restrictions were to be lifted and no restrictions allowed other than establishment conditions. For the insurance brokerage sector, within five years of China’s accession, the establishment of wholly foreign-funded subsidiary companies was to be allowed, and no restriction other than establishment conditions and restrictions on business scope.
Content Related to Insurance Industry in the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangements
Under CEPA Supplement IV signed in July 2007 and CEPA Supplement VIII signed in December 2011, local insurance agencies in Hong Kong and Macao are allowed to set up wholly-owned insurance agency companies and conduct insurance intermediary businesses in Guangdong Province (including Shenzhen) on a pilot basis if they fulfill the following criteria:
|●||The applicant must have operated an insurance brokerage businesses in Hong Kong and Macao for over 10 years;|
|●||The applicant’s average annual revenue of insurance brokerage business for the past three years before application must not be less than HKD500,000 and the total assets as at the end of the year before application must not be less than HKD500,000;|
|●||Within the years before application, there has been no serious misconduct or record of disciplinary action; and|
|●||The applicant must have set up a representative office in mainland China for over one year|
Regulations on Internet Insurance
The principal regulation governing the operation of internet insurance business is the Interim Measures for the Supervision of the Internet Insurance Business, or Interim Measures, promulgated by the CIRC on July 22, 2015 and effective on October 1, 2015. Under the Interim Measures, the term of “internet insurance business” refers to the business of concluding insurance contracts and providing insurance services by insurance institutions through self-operated internet platforms, third-party internet platforms or other methods using the internet and mobile communication and other technologies. Insurance institutions include insurance companies and professional insurance intermediary companies that are established and registered in accordance with applicable laws and regulations and with the approval of the CIRC. Professional insurance intermediaries refer to professional insurance agencies, insurance brokerage firms and insurance claims adjusting firms that can operate in the areas not limited to the provinces where they are registered. Third party internet platforms refer to internet platforms other than those self-operated by insurance institutions which provide auxiliary services related to internet technology support to insurance institutions for their internet insurance business activities. Any third party internet platform that intends to directly engage in the internet insurance business such as underwriting of insurance policies, settlement of claims, cancellation of insurance policies, handling customers’ complaints and providing other customer services shall apply and obtain relevant qualifications from the CIRC before engaging in internet insurance business.
Both self-operated internet platforms and third party internet platforms, through which insurance institutions conduct internet insurance business, shall meet certain requirements such as obtaining ICP licenses or making ICP filing and maintaining sound internet operation system and information security system.
Insurance institutions shall carefully evaluate their own risk management and control capacity and customer service capacity, and rationally determine and choose insurance products and the scope of sales activities suitable for internet operations. The Interim Measures permit insurance companies to sell certain type of products online in regions outside their registered business areas, which include: (i) personal accident insurance, term life insurance and general whole life insurance; (ii) individual homeowner insurance, liability insurance, credit insurance and guarantee insurance; (iii) property insurance business for which the whole service process services from sales and underwriting of insurance policies to the settlement of claims can be performed independently and completely through the internet; and (iv) other insurance products specified by the CBIRC. The Interim Measures also specifies requirements on disclosure of information regarding insurance products sold on the internet and provides guidelines for the operations of the insurance institutions that engage in internet insurance business.
Regulations on Online Financial Services
On July 18, 2015, ten PRC regulatory agencies, including the PBOC, the CIRC and the CBRC, jointly issued the Guidelines on Promoting the Healthy Development of Internet Finance, or the Guidelines. The Guidelines encourage insurance companies to leverage Internet technology to transform and upgrade traditional financial services. The Guidelines also support financial institutions to build innovative international platforms that could conduct internet insurance business.
The Guidelines set out the basic principles for promoting the development and the administration of the online insurance sector. The respective regulatory agencies will adopt new rules and regulations to implement and enforce the principles set out in the Guidelines. As the implementing rules and regulations of the Guidelines have not been published, there is uncertainty as to how the requirements in the Guidelines will be interpreted and implemented.
Regulations on Foreign Exchange
Foreign Currency Exchange
Foreign exchange regulation in China is primarily governed by the following rules:
|●||Foreign Currency Administration Rules (1996), as amended pursuant to the Decision on Revising the Foreign Currency Administration Rules promulgated by the State Council on January 14, 1997 and the Foreign Currency Administration Rules promulgated by the State Council on August 5, 2008; and|
|●||Administration Rules of the Settlement, Sale and Payment of Foreign Exchange.|
Under the Foreign Currency Administration Rules, the RMB is convertible for current account items, including the distribution of dividends, interest payments, trade and service-related foreign exchange transactions. Conversion of RMB for capital account items, such as direct investment, loan, security investment and repatriation of investment, however, is still subject to the approval of the SAFE.
Under the Administration Rules of the Settlement, Sale and Payment of Foreign Exchange, foreign-invested enterprises may only buy, sell or remit foreign currencies at those banks authorized to conduct foreign exchange business after providing valid commercial documents and, in the case of capital account item transactions, obtaining approval from the SAFE. Capital investments by foreign-invested enterprises outside of China are also subject to limitations, which include approvals by the Ministry of Commerce, the SAFE and the State Development and Reform Commission.
Foreign Exchange Registration of Offshore Investment by PRC Residents
Pursuant to the SAFE Circular 37, issued on July 4, 2014, prior to making contribution to a SPC with legitimate holdings of domestic or overseas assets or interests, a PRC resident (including PRC institutions and resident individuals) shall apply to the relevant Foreign Exchange Bureau for foreign exchange registration of overseas investment. A PRC resident who makes contribution with legitimate holdings of domestic assets or interests shall apply for registration to the Foreign Exchange Bureau at its place of registration or the Foreign Exchange Bureau at the locus of the assets or interests of the relevant PRC enterprise. A PRC resident who makes contribution with legitimate holdings of overseas assets or interests shall apply for registration to the Foreign Exchange Bureau at its place of registration or household register. Where a registered overseas SPC experiences changes of its PRC resident individual shareholder, its name, operating period or other basic information, or experiences changes of material matters, such as the increase or reduction of contribution by the PRC resident individual, the transfer or replacement of equity, or merger or division, the PRC resident shall promptly change the foreign exchange registration of overseas investment with the Foreign Exchange Bureau concerned. Under SAFE Circular 37, failure to comply with the registration procedures set forth above may result in the penalties, including imposition of restrictions on a PRC subsidiary’s foreign exchange activities and its ability to distribute dividends to the SPV. See “Item 3. Key Information — D. Risk Factors — Risks Related to Doing Business in China — PRC regulations relating to the establishment of offshore special purpose companies by PRC residents and employee stock options granted by overseas-listed companies may increase our administrative burden, restrict our overseas and cross-border investment activity, or otherwise adversely affect us. If our shareholders who are PRC residents, or our PRC employees who are granted or exercise stock options, fail to make any required registrations or filings under such regulations, we may be unable to distribute profits and may become subject to liability under PRC laws and regulations, such as the Circular 19 promulgated by SAFE in March, 2015. The Circular 19 is designed with the view to further deepening the reform of the foreign exchange administration system, and better satisfying and facilitating the needs of foreign-invested enterprises for business and fund operations. It states the management of the payment of the amount of foreign exchanges settled shall be further standardized, and also the penalties of the foreign-invested enterprises and banks that violates this notice in handling the settlement, use and other business of the foreign exchange capitals of foreign-invested enterprises. The irregularities shall be investigated and punished by foreign exchange bureaus pursuant to the Regulations of the People’s Republic of China on Foreign Exchange Administration and other relevant provisions.
SAFE Regulations on Employee Share Options
On December 25, 2006, the PBOC promulgated the “Measures for the Administration of Individual Foreign Exchange,” and on January 5, 2007, the SAFE further promulgated the implementation rules on those measures. Both became effective on February 1, 2007. According to the implementation rules, PRC citizens who are granted shares or share options by a company listed on an overseas stock market according to its employee share option or share incentive plan are required, through the PRC subsidiary of such overseas listed company or any other qualified PRC agent, to register with the SAFE and to complete certain other procedures related to the share option or other share incentive plan. Foreign exchange income received from the sale of shares or dividends distributed by the overseas listed company may be remitted into a foreign currency account of such PRC citizen or be exchanged into Renminbi. Our PRC citizen employees who have been granted share options are subject to the Individual Foreign Exchange Rules.
On March 28, 2007, SAFE promulgated the Operating Rules for Administration of Foreign Exchange in Domestic Individuals’ Participation in Employee Stock Ownership Plans and Stock Option plans of Companies Listed Abroad, or the Operating Rules, or the Operating Rules. Stock Option Rule. On February 15, 2012, SAFE promulgated the No. 7 Notice, which supersedes the Stock Option Rule in its entirety and immediately became effective upon circulation. According to the No. 7 Notice, domestic individuals, which include any directors, supervisors, senior managerial personnel or other employees of a domestic company who are Chinese citizens (including citizens of Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan) or foreign individuals who consecutively reside in the territory of PRC for one year, who participate in the same equity incentive plan of an overseas listed company shall, through the domestic companies they serve, collectively entrust a domestic agency to handle issues such as foreign exchange registration, account opening, funds transfer and remittance, and entrust an overseas institution to handle issues such as exercise of options, purchasing and sale of related stocks or equity, and funds transfer. Where a domestic agency needs to remit funds out of China as required for individuals’ participation in an equity incentive plan, the domestic agency shall apply with the local office of the SAFE for a foreign exchange payment quota on a yearly basis. A domestic agency shall open a domestic special foreign exchange account in the bank. After repatriation of foreign currency income earned by individuals from participation in an equity incentive plan, the domestic agency shall request the bank to transfer the funds from its special foreign currency account to respective personal foreign currency deposit accounts. In the case of any significant change to the equity incentive plan of a company listed abroad (such as amendment to any major terms of the original plan, addition of a new plan, or other changes to the original plan due to merger, acquisition or reorganization of the overseas listed company or the domestic company or other major events), the domestic agency or the overseas trustee, the domestic agency shall, within three months of the occurrence of such changes, go through procedures for change of foreign exchange registration with the local office of the SAFE. The SAFE and its branches shall supervise, administer and inspect foreign exchange operations related to individuals’ participation in equity incentive plans of companies listed abroad, and may take regulatory measures and impose administrative sanctions on individuals, domestic companies, domestic agencies and banks violating the provisions of the No. 7 Notice.
We and our employees who have been granted applicable equity awards shall be subject to the No. 7 Notice. If we fail to comply with the No. 7 Notice, we and/or our employees who are subject to the No. 7 Notice may face sanctions imposed by foreign exchange authority or any other PRC government authorities.
Regulations on Dividend Distribution
The principal regulations governing dividend distributions of wholly foreign-owned companies include:
|●||Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprise Law (1986), as amended pursuant to the Decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on Revising the Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprise Law promulgated on October 31, 2000 and The Decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on Revising the “Law of the People’s Republic of China on Foreign-invested Enterprises” which promulgated on September 3,2016 and took effect on October 1, 2016; and|
|●||Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprise Law Implementing Rules (1990), as amended pursuant to the Decision of the State Council on Amending the Rules for the Implementation of the Law on Foreign-Owned Enterprises promulgated by the State Council on April 12, 2001 and the Decision of the State Council on Amending the Rules for the Implementation of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Foreign-capital Enterprises which took effect as of the promulgation date of March 1, 2014.|
Under these regulations, wholly foreign-owned companies in the PRC may pay dividends only out of their accumulated profits as determined in accordance with PRC accounting standards. In addition, these wholly foreign-owned companies are required to set aside at least 10% of their respective accumulated profits each year, if any, to fund certain reserve funds, until the accumulative amount of such fund reaches 50% of its registered capital. These reserve funds are not distributable as cash dividends.
Regulation on Overseas Listing
On August 8, 2006, six PRC regulatory agencies, namely, the PRC Ministry of Commerce, the State Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, the State Administration for Taxation, the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, the CSRC and the SAFE, jointly adopted the Provisions on Foreign Investors’ Merger with and Acquisition of Domestic Enterprises, or the Order No. 10 (2006) which became effective on September 8, 2006. The Order No. 10 (2006) purports, among other things, to require offshore SPVs, formed for overseas listing purposes and controlled by PRC companies or individuals, to obtain the approval of the CSRC prior to publicly listing their securities on an overseas stock exchange. On September 21, 2006, the CSRC published a notice on its official website specifying documents and materials required to be submitted to it by SPVs seeking CSRC approval of their overseas listings.
At the time of our initial public offering in October 2007, while the application of the M&A Rule remained unclear, our then PRC counsel at the time, Commerce & Finance Law Offices, had advised us that, based on their understanding of the then PRC laws and regulations as well as the procedures announced on September 21, 2006:
|●||the CSRC had jurisdiction over our initial public offering;|
|●||the CSRC had not issued any definitive rule or interpretation concerning whether offerings like our initial public offering are subject to the M&A Rule; and|
|●||despite the above, given that we had completed our inbound investment before September 8, 2006, the effective date of the M&A Rule, an application was not required under the M&A Rule to be submitted to the CSRC for its approval of the listing and trading of our ADSs on the Nasdaq Global Market, unless we are clearly required to do so by subsequent rules of the CSRC.|
See “Item 3. Key Information — D. Risk Factors — Risks Related to Doing Business in China” — The approval of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, or the CSRC, may have been required in connection with our initial public offering in October 2007 under a PRC regulation adopted in August 2006. Based on the advice of our PRC counsel, we did not seek CSRC’s approval for our initial public offering. Any requirement to obtain prior CSRC approval and a failure to obtain this approval, if required, could have a material adverse effect on our business, operating results, reputation and trading price of our ADSs.
Regulations on Tax
PRC Enterprise Income Tax
The PRC EIT is calculated based on the taxable income determined under the PRC accounting standards and regulations, as well as the EIT law. On March 16, 2007, the National People’s Congress of China enacted the EIT Law, a new EIT law which became effective on January 1, 2008. On December 6, 2007, the State Council promulgated the Implementation Rules which also became effective on January 1, 2008. On December 26, 2007, the State Council issued the Notice on Implementation of Enterprise Income Tax Transition Preferential Policy under the EIT Law, or the Transition Preferential Policy Circular, which became effective simultaneously with the EIT Law. The EIT Law imposes a uniform EIT rate of 25% on all domestic enterprises and foreign-invested enterprises unless they qualify under certain exceptions. Under the EIT Law, as further clarified by the Implementation Rules, the Transition Preferential Policy Circular and other related regulations, enterprises that were established and already enjoyed preferential tax treatments before March 16, 2007 will continue to enjoy them in the following manners: (i) in the case of preferential tax rates, for a five-year period starting from January 1, 2008, during which the tax rate will gradually increase to 25%; or (ii) in the case of preferential tax exemption or reduction for a specified term, until the expiration of such term. However, if such an enterprise has not enjoyed the preferential treatments yet because of its failure to make a profit, its term for preferential treatment will be deemed to start from 2008. See “Item 3. Key Information — D. Risk Factors — Risks Related to Doing Business in China — The PRC Enterprise Income Tax Law may increase the enterprise income tax rate applicable to some of our PRC subsidiaries which could have a material adverse effect on our result of operations.”
Under the New Income Tax law, enterprises are classified as either resident or non-resident. A resident enterprise refers to one that is incorporated under the PRC law or under the law of a jurisdiction outside the PRC with its “de facto management organization” located within the PRC. Non-resident enterprise refers to one that is incorporated under the law of a jurisdiction outside the PRC with its “de facto management organization” located also outside the PRC, but which has either set up institutions or establishments in the PRC or has income originating from the PRC without setting up any institution or establishment in the PRC. Under the New Enterprise Income Tax, Implementation Regulation, or the New EIT Implementation Regulations, “de facto management organization” is defined as the organization of an enterprise through which substantial and comprehensive management and control over the business, operations, personnel, accounting and properties of the enterprise are exercised. Under the New Income Tax Law and the New EIT Implementation Regulation, a resident enterprise’s global net income will be subject to a 25% EIT rate. On April 22, 2009, the State Administration of Taxation, or the SAT, issued SAT Circular 82, which provides certain specific criteria for determining whether the “de facto management body” of a PRC-controlled enterprise that is incorporated offshore is located in China. In addition, the SAT issued a bulletin on July 27, 2011 providing more guidance on the implementation of Circular 82 and clarifies matters such as resident status determination. Due to the present uncertainties resulting from the limited PRC tax guidance on this issue and because substantially all of our operations and all of our senior management are located within China, we may be considered a PRC resident enterprise for EIT purposes, in which case: (i) we would be subject to the PRC EIT at the rate of 25% on our worldwide income; and (ii) dividends income received by us from our PRC subsidiaries, however, would be exempt from the PRC withholding tax since such income is exempted under the EIT Law for a PRC resident enterprise recipient. See “Item 3. Key Information — D.Risk Factors — Risks Related to Doing Business in China — Our global income or the dividends we receive from our PRC subsidiaries may be subject to PRC tax under the EIT Law, which could have a material adverse effect on our results of operations.”
PRC Business Tax and VAT