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By John Tilak
TORONTO, Nov 12 (Reuters) - Manulife Financial Corp , Canada's biggest insurer, is interested in a range of insurance and asset management acquisition opportunities across several markets in Asia, a top executive said on Thursday.
The company is looking to strengthen its position in Japan and Hong Kong, its two biggest markets in Asia, as well as add capabilities at fast-growing segments such as China, Philippines and Vietnam.
Toronto-based Manulife, whose rivals in Canada include Sun Life Financial Inc and Great-West Lifeco Inc, has made a slew of acquisitions in recent months. Any deal in Asia would accelerate its growth plans in the region, which has been a big driver for the broader company.
Manulife is looking to take advantage of its own capital position and favorable demographic trends in the region, said Roy Gori, chief executive of Manulife Asia.
"You've got a middle class that's growing very rapidly, you've got an aging population," he said in an interview with Reuters. "And wealth will more than double in the next 10 years."
The company has about 10,000 employees in Asia and operates in 12 markets. The region accounts for about a third of Manulife's earnings and about half of its insurance sales.
"An important part of our strategy is to diversify our business and to have some far smaller businesses gain greater scale," he said, adding that such moves would help improve margins and better deal with market volatility.
Choppiness in the price of oil took a toll on the company's profits in the third quarter, causing them to miss market expectations. The stock closed down 3.7 percent on Thursday.
In April, Manulife signed a $1.2 billion deal with Singapore's DBS Group Holdings Ltd for a 15-year partnership that will allow the insurer to sell products through the lender's Asian branch network.
The company would be interested in more such 'bancassurance' deals, in which insurers pay to access lenders' branch networks, Gori said.
"Bancassurance is a key aspect of growth and opportunity for us. So we'll continue to pursue that," he said.
In another deal, Manulife agreed to buy Standard Chartered's Hong Kong pension business and entered into a partnership to provide pension services through the mandatory provident fund platform to the bank's customers in Hong Kong.
Gori, who joined Manulife from Citigroup to head the Asian unit earlier in 2015, declined to say how much the company would spend on acquisitions.
Manulife had cash and short-term securities of C$18.3 billion at the end of the third quarter. (Reporting by John Tilak; Editing by Diane Craft)