Floating Kyobo Life Insurance hits snag over options contract

Kyobo Life Insurance headquarters in Seoul. (Kyobo Life Insurance)

Kyobo Life Insurance headquarters in Seoul. (Kyobo Life Insurance)

Kyobo Life Insurance, Korea’s third-largest insurance company by assets, said Friday that a private equity firm-led consortium is threatening to derail its efforts to go public. The consortium is compelling the insurance company to honor an options contract that Kyobo says could undermine its CEO, the largest shareholder.

The consortium — led by equity firm Affinity Equity Partners — signed a put option agreement with Kyobo Life Insurance CEO Shin Chang-jae in 2012. The consortium claims that the 2012 contract obligated him to buy out its shares unless he floated the company by 2015. No initial public offering had taken place.

In October 2018, the consortium, which held the second-largest stake in the insurance company, exercised the option. But Shin refused to buy out the shares, citing the exorbitant price, which the group had set at around 400,000 won ($328) per share.

The International Chamber of Commerce intervened at the group’s request, but the two parties have yet to settle their differences. The arbitral tribunal, which said the contract itself remains valid, is now asked to rule on how the two should set the price, though the ruling is not expected anytime soon.

Nevertheless, Kyobo Life Insurance insists the contract is “null and void,” calling the consortium’s resort to the tribunal a “malicious attempt” to threaten Shin’s management control when the insurance company is about to float its shares.

“We see it as a hostile takeover,” Kyobo Life Insurance said in a statement. An official said the company could face a penalty for even engaging in the dispute when efforts to take it public were underway.

The consortium said it was neither interested in nor able to go after management control. Once the put option is exercised, Shin would absorb the group’s share and become the most powerful shareholder.

“This is our right as a shareholder,” the consortium said in a statement.

By Choi Si-young (

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