The real estate arm of Italian insurer Assicurazioni Generali SpA is planning a big push into Asia as part of a group-wide expansion away from its European roots.

Generali Real Estate SpA currently holds nearly all of its €28 billion ($29.6 billion) property portfolio in Europe. But Chief Executive Officer Christian Delaire said it expects to eventually have 10% to 15% of the portfolio in Asian markets such as China and Indonesia.

“We’re basically starting from scratch,” Mr. Delaire said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. He declined to say how long it would take to reach the target in Asia. “It will not be too quickly, but our ambitions are high,” he said.

Global property investors have increasingly moved into foreign markets, or new asset classes such as student housing, on the hunt for higher returns in a low interest rate environment. But while Asian investors have been quick to embrace Europe, movement the other way is far less common.

In the past 12 months, $2.4 billion flowed into Asian real-estate markets from Europe, data from Real Capital Analytics show. In the same period, data show $17.4 billion flowed into Europe from Asia.

The biggest European investors buying property in Asia are large insurers such as Prudential PLC in the U.K. and AXA Group in France, which already have insurance operations in the region. Generali’s insurance business, the third largest in Europe, is looking to expand its business in Asia, Mr. Delaire said.

European insurers “are running global businesses anyway,” said David Green-Morgan, global capital markets research director at broker JLL in Singapore. “It is much easier for them to deploy money to the Asia-Pacific region.”

For the majority of European property investors Asia is less attractive than Europe, where real-estate prices are perceived to have room to grow amid a flood of capital from the European Central Bank’s bond buying program, Mr. Green-Morgan said.

Generali Real Estate currently has 40% of its assets in Italy, and 57% in the rest of Europe. U.S. assets account for 1.5% of its portfolio, and Asia is less than 1%.

Generali Real Estate’s previous acquisitions in Asia were purely aimed at supporting the wider group’s insurance operations. For instance, three years ago Generali Real Estate purchased part of the Prosper Center in Beijing as offices for Generali China.

The firm has yet to close any deals in Asia under its new strategy, but “we’re close to one or two,” said Mr. Delaire, who joined as chief executive officer last April.

In addition to supporting the group’s expanding insurance operations in Asia, the planned move will aim to diversify Generali Real Estate’s exposure and help insulate it from any financial shocks, Mr. Delaire said.

Shocks to the increasingly global financial system are certain, and “diversifying will help smooth these problems along the way,” he said.

Generali Real Estate hired Andy Tan, a former vice president at Singapore’s sovereign-wealth fund, in December to oversee its Asian expansion from Singapore.

Read more: Real Estate Unit of Italy’s Generali Planning Move into Asia

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