PCA Life, the regional unit of Prudential of the UK, has hired a team of variable annuity specialists in Tokyo to lead its push into that emerging business.

Patrick Kawasjee joined PCA Life as executive director of the VA sales development group, bringing with him half of the 30-strong team he had developed last year at Aspecta, the life insurance arm of Germany's HDI Group. He had previously run the retail business at Citigroup Asset Management in Japan.

Kawasjee believes variable annuities are the ideal product for Japan's ageing, wealthy society, if they are structured and marketed properly to account for local sensibilities and requirements. VAs are relatively new in Japan, having only begun three years ago, and only last autumn were banks allowed to sell them.

Aspecta set up an office with the sole aim of bringing its VA expertise to Japan, but the turmoil rocking European insurance companies forced it to shutter the venture. Kawasjee was disappointed but quickly found himself wooed by other foreign insurers in Tokyo keen to break into what could become a fast-growing business.

PCA's Japan CEO Garry Bennett had already announced the firm's intention to offer VAs before hiring Kawasjee, and it has a global platform in place that Kawasjee intends to tweak for the Japanese environment. For example, it will require more oversight of distributors, which in Japan have little experience with VAs. Kawasjee also wants to expand the current investment options from three to about a dozen, and hone PCA's asset allocation skills for the product.

PCA Life aims to formally launch its variable annuity business by July 1. selling via the big money centre banks and select regional banks and securities firms that have the right "philosophical fit", as Kawasjee puts it; and marketing not just to wealthy retirees but women and working-age people.