Japanese insurer Sumitomo Life purchased HSBC Insurance’s 18 percent stake in BaoViet Holdings for about 7 trillion VND (340 million USD on Dec. 20, to become the new strategic investor of the largest insurance company in Vietnam.

The transaction is the latest Japanese acquisition in Southeast Asia as its banks and insurers are stepping up overseas expansion.

Sumitomo Life, one of Japan's top four life insurers with over 100 years of development, sells its products via a network of 300 banks and financial institutions.

HSBC, which paid 360 million USD to buy the 18 percent stake in BaoViet in two tranches in 2007 and 2009, said the deal marks another step in its plan to exit non-core businesses.

According to HSBC, the transaction with Sumitomo is expected to be completed during the first quarter of 2013. The bank has committed to remain focused on building a strong, sustainable business in Vietnam .

According to Swiss Re's Sigma Report, Vietnam's insurance market was worth just 818 million USD in 2011 in terms of premiums, compared with Japan's 524.7 billion USD that year.

Vietnam's life insurance penetration rate, a measure of how much a country's population spends on life insurance, was just 0.7 percent in 2011, compared with 8.8 percent in Japan and 3.6 percent in the United States.-VNA