HANOI, Oct 9 Prudential Plc PRU.L, Britain's second-largest insurer, said it has

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HANOI, Oct 9 (Reuters) Prudential Plc , Britain's second-largest insurer, said it has opened consumer finance business in Vietnam, becoming the first foreign non-bank financial firm to tap one of Asia's fastest growing economies.

Prudential Vietnam Finance Co would provide personal loans and home mortgages and later plans to introduce credit card business, Prudential said in a statement on Tuesday.

It marks Prudential's first foray into the consumer finance business, the company added.

Foreign players have been flooding into Vietnam's booming retail financial services industry, attracted by strong loan growth and a wave of privatisations among local operators.

Prudential, which will operate the Vietnam subsidiary via its Hong Kong regional headquarters, entered Vietnam in 1999 with insurance business.

It has the largest market share in the Southeast Asian country's insurance sector and also is the largest institutional fund manager, dealing with funds totalling $1.3 billion.

Prudential said it has secured a licence from Vietnam's central bank for the consumer finance business, which will be based in Ho Chi Minh City.

Vietnam's central bank has forecast 2007 lending to grow as much as 38 percent, above its initial target of 18-22 percent, reflecting higher personal income and also more corporate demand in the fast-expanding economy.

Vietnam's economy grew by 8.2 percent in the first nine months of the year, the strongest growth for the period in a decade, the government said last week.

Prudential said it has asset management operations in 10 Asian countries, contributing $67 billion in funds under management, from a global total of $510 billion.

REUTERS SR

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