Ping An's new headquarters is in the heart of China's Silicon Valley in Shenzhen and aims to showcase the insurance giant's focus on technology. The FT's Louise Lucas checks in to check out their strategy
Shenzhen is China's Silicon Valley. It used to be regarded as the workshop of the world. But now it's home to some of the most advanced technology on the planet and some of the world's most innovative office buildings.
115 stories, 599 metres, the Ping An International Finance Centre is the fourth tallest building in the world. But it's not just height that makes the building special. It's technology.
Sensors control the lights, the temperature, even the blinds. And the facial recognition barrier is ultra smooth. The biggest surprise is that the glitzy high tech tower is home to an insurance company.
Ping An is China's largest private insurer. But it's betting its future on technology - insure tech, fintech, and health tech. Like Facebook and Google, insurers have access to reams of data on health, homes, and our propensity to crash cars. These dashboards show real time data about what's happening with Ping An's customers across China. But how is the data being used?
Well, we have a couple of city governments in China using public healthcare records and our own proprietary data to understand the spread of diseases. So right now, we are in the midst of the flu season. Then through that, we can help then to predict over a week by week period, how the flu is spreading between district by district.
There's also some fun to be had. This screen renders your mood as a work of art.
This is an extension of our micro expression engine to understand your emotion and then generating an art piece based on your emotions. So you can give it a try. So, yeah.
This is me, me angry.
But business is a serious matter. Chairman Peter Ma wants half of the company's revenues to come from tech within a decade. It currently contributes less than 1%. The office areas are comparatively mundane. The plants are mainly there to absorb the new office smell. The workers themselves aren't yet automated. But the blinds are and follow the sun. Architect Felix Wu took inspiration from a range of multinational headquarters, including Goldman Sachs in New York.
As an architect, here it's quite strange when the people, knowing that I'm working for insurance company, we are not something like Rem Koolhaas or Zaha Hadid. They're doing very funky or avant garde things. But for Ping An, as an insurance company, we are looking for efficiency and also very pragmatic design.
The view from the observation deck is a world away from Silicon Valley. But perhaps that's fitting, as the insurance giant has yet to make its mark on America's tech scene. But Ping An at least has its sky-high building to go with its sky-high ambitions.