A LONDON-LISTED insurance company said yesterday it is taking over one of the few direct insurers in Singapore.

DirectAsia, with offices in Neil Road and South Bridge Road, will be sold for US$55 million (S$70 million) plus top-ups over the next four years, depending on the firm's performance.

The buyer is insurance group Hiscox, which had a market value of £2.315 billion (S$4.9 billion) on Friday.

DirectAsia was founded in Singapore in 2010 and has expanded into Hong Kong and Thailand. Its primary business is motor insurance, and it also offers travel, personal accident, health-care and life products.

The company is a direct insurer, meaning it sells products directly to consumers via channels such as the Internet. It does not go through intermediaries such as agents or banks.

It has more than 54,000 customers and employs 140 people across its three markets. The company had gross written premiums of US$25.3 million last year.

Direct insurance is popular in the West as it theoretically saves on distribution costs such as agents' fees. But it is still a small market here so most insurers prefer to sell through intermediaries.

Another notable direct insurer is British multinational Aviva, which in Singapore sells products such as car, travel and home insurance directly to consumers.

Aviva also uses intermediaries to sell some of its other products, including whole life policies.

DirectAsia's current owner is the Singapore-headquartered Whittington Group, which used to hold a portfolio of insurance businesses.

Whittington, mostly owned by private equity, has sold its businesses, and DirectAsia had been the last in its stable.

"Whittington will remain, and whether it comes alive again with different capital, we will have to wait and see," said Whittington chief executive Anthony Hobrow.

Mr Hobrow said that DirectAsia has "developed a successful entrepreneurial business, taking on the global giants with traditional distribution models".

"We are very pleased that we have been able to pass this unique platform to Hiscox, who can supply expertise, capital and a strong customer-focused culture to help us further develop and grow the business," he added.

Mr Hobrow is also chairman of DirectAsia and will stay on as deputy chairman after the takeover is complete. It will continue to operate under the DirectAsia brand.

DirectAsia will be Hiscox's first business in Asia. The acquisition has been approved by the Monetary Authority of Singapore and is subject to regulatory approval from the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance in Hong Kong.