Buying insurance products is a popular way for mainland tourists to Hong Kong to skirt restrictions. Photo: AFP

Mainland Chinese visitors bought HK$18.8 billion (US$2.42 billion) of insurance in Hong Kong in the third quarter, more than double the amount in the same period last year, as the yuan currency skidded to eight-and-a-half year lows.

Buying insurance products is a popular way for mainlanders to skirt restrictions and get funds out of China as they worry about further depreciation of the yuan and a slowing economy.

New insurance premiums from mainland visitors in the first nine months of the year hit HK$48.9 billion, surpassing the total for the whole of 2015, which stood at HK$31.6 billion. Hong Kong government statistics showed on Thursday.

Mainland visitors’ new premiums accounted for 37% of the total new premiums for individual business, according to the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance.

New premiums paid by mainland visitors rose 11% in the third quarter from the previous quarter and were up 1.6 times from the third quarter of 2015.

The yuan has lost 10% against the US dollar since Beijing unexpectedly devalued it on August 11 last year.

Yuan selling intensified in November as the dollar strengthened, prompting Chinese state banks to intervene in recent sessions to stem the currency’s slide.

A slew of investment banks have recently revised down their forecasts of the yuan/dollar exchange rates in the coming year.

Worried by the risk of a surge in capital outflows, Chinese regulators have stepped up a crackdown on legal and illegal channels that allow money to be moved abroad.

China’s biggest bank card provider UnionPay said at the end of October that mainland customers were not allowed to use UnionPay cards to buy any insurance products that include investment-related contents in Hong Kong.

Market players say the tightening measure may start to impact new insurance premiums from mainland visitors in the fourth quarter.

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