Zurich Insurance Group AG plans to expand in China and Saudi Arabia as the insurer seeks to capitalize on economic growth in the world’s second-biggest economy and largest oil exporter.

Switzerland’s biggest insurer plans to set up as many as five branches in China by 2016 after winning a license that allows it to apply for expansion beyond its presence in Beijing, Geoff Riddell, chairman of Asia-Pacific and the Middle East, said today in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Jordan. In Saudi Arabia, the firm has been in talks with the central bank on the best way to enter the market, he said.

The two countries were among the top three performing economies in the Group of 20 from 2008 to 2012, according to the International Monetary Fund. The possible expansion in China comes as authorities put more emphasis on the quality of economic growth and urbanization to boost domestic demand.

“The question is how fast will the authorities let us get extra licenses” in general insurance, said Riddell, who is based in Hong Kong. “Shanghai is our first priority.”

The Chinese economy will grow 7.9 percent this year from 7.8 percent in 2012, according to the median estimate of 55 economists surveyed by Bloomberg.

Economic expansion may also occur in Saudi Arabia because of the infrastructure spending Zurich foresees in the country as well as from Takaful insurance, or Islamic-compliant insurance, in the Middle East, according to Riddell.

Zurich Insurance may also enter the Takaful business in Malaysia, he said, adding the company isn’t in talks on any acquisitions.

Editors: Stephen Taylor, Steve Bailey