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Present Scenario

The Government of India liberalised the insurance sector in March 2000 with the passage of the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) Bill, lifting all entry restrictions for private players and allowing foreign players to enter the market with some limits on direct foreign ownership. Under the current guidelines, there is a 26 percent equity cap for foreign partners in an insurance company. There is a proposal to increase this limit to 49 percent.

The opening up of the sector is likely to lead to greater spread and deepening of insurance in India and this may also include restructuring and revitalizing of the public sector companies. In the private sector 12 life insurance and 8 general insurance companies have been registered. A host of private Insurance companies operating in both life and non-life segments have started selling their insurance policies since 2001.

Non-Life Insurance Market

In December 2000, the GIC subsidiaries were restructured as independent insurance companies. At the same time, GIC was converted into a national re-insurer. In July 2002, Parliamant passed a bill, delinking the four subsidiaries from GIC.

Presently there are 12 general insurance companies with 4 public sector companies and 8 private insurers. Although the public sector companies still dominate the general insurance business, the private players are slowly gaining a foothold. According to estimates, private insurance companies have a 10 percent share of the market, up from 4 percent in 2001. In the first half of 2002, the private companies booked premiums worth Rs 6.34 billion. Most of the new entrants reported losses in the first year of their operation in 2001.

With a large capital outlay and long gestation periods, infrastructure projects are fraught with a multitude of risks throughout the development, construction and operation stages. These include risks associated with project implementaion, including geological risks, maintenance, commercial and political risks. Without covering these risks the financial institutions are not willing to commit funds to the sector, especially because the financing of most private projects is on a limited or non- recourse basis.

Insurance companies not only provide risk cover to infrastructure projects, they also contribute long-term funds. In fact, insurance companies are an ideal source of long term debt and equity for infrastructure projects. With long term liability, they get a good asset- liability match by investing their funds in such projects. IRDA regulations require insurance companies to invest not less than 15 percent of their funds in infrastructure and social sectors. International Insurance companies also invest their funds in such projects.

Insurance costs constitute roughly around 1.2- 2 percent of the total project costs. Under the existing norms, insurance premium payments are treated as part of the fixed costs. Consequently they are treated as pass-through costs for tariff calculations.

Premium rates of most general insurance policies come under the purview of the government appointed Tariff Advisory Commitee. For Projects costing up to Rs 1 Billion, the Tariff Advisory Committee sets the premium rates, for Projects between Rs 1 billion and Rs 15 billion, the rates are set in keeping with the committee's guidelines; and projects above Rs 15 billion are subjected to re-insurance pricing. It is the last segment that has a number of additional products and competitive pricing.

Insurance, like project finance, is extended by a consortium. Normally one insurer takes the lead, shouldering about 40-50 per cent of the risk and receiving a proportionate percentage of the premium. The other companies share the remaining risk and premium. The policies are renewed usually on an annual basis through the invitation of bids.

Of late, with IPP projects fizzling out, the insurance companies are turning once again to old hands such as NTPC, NHPC and BSES for business.

Re-insurance business

Insurance companies retain only a part of the risk (less than 10 per cent) assumed by them, which can be safely borne from their own funds. The balance risk is re-insured with other insurers. In effect, therefore, re-insurance is insurer's insurance. It forms the backbone of the insurance business. It helps to provide a better spread of risk in the international market, allows primary insurers to accept risks beyond their capacity, settle accumulated losses arising from catastrophic events and still maintain their financial stability.

While GIC's subsidiaries look after general insurance, GIC itself has been the major reinsurer. Currently, all insurance companies have to give 20 per cent of their reinsurance business to GIC. The aim is to ensure that GIC's role as the national reinsurer remains unhindered. However, GIC reinsures the amount further with international companies such as Swissre (Switzerland), Munichre (Germany), and Royale (UK). Reinsurance premiums have seen an exorbitant increase in recent years, following the rise in threat perceptions globally.

Life Insurance Market

The Life Insurance market in India is an underdeveloped market that was only tapped by the state owned LIC till the entry of private insurers. The penetration of life insurance products was 19 percent of the total 400 million of the insurable population. The state owned LIC sold insurance as a tax instrument, not as a product giving protection. Most customers were under- insured with no flexibility or transparency in the products. With the entry of the private insurers the rules of the game have changed.

The 12 private insurers in the life insurance market have already grabbed nearly 9 percent of the market in terms of premium income. The new business premiums of the 12 private players has tripled to Rs 1000 crore in 2002- 03 over last year. Meanwhile, state owned LIC's new premium business has fallen.

Innovative products, smart marketing and aggressive distribution. That's the triple whammy combination that has enabled fledgling private insurance companies to sign up Indian customers faster than anyone ever expected. Indians, who have always seen life insurance as a tax saving device, are now suddenly turning to the private sector and snapping up the new innovative products on offer.

The growing popularity of the private insurers shows in other ways. They are coining money in new niches that they have introduced. The state owned companies still dominate segments like endowments and money back policies. But in the annuity or pension products business, the private insurers have already wrested over 33 percent of the market. And in the popular unit-linked insurance schemes they have a virtual monopoly, with over 90 percent of the customers.

The private insurers also seem to be scoring big in other ways- they are persuading people to take out bigger policies. For instance, the average size of a life insurance policy before privatisation was around Rs 50,000. That has risen to about Rs 80,000. But the private insurers are ahead in this game and the average size of their policies is around Rs 1.1 lakh to Rs 1.2 lakh- way bigger than the industry average.

Buoyed by their quicker than expected success, nearly all private insurers are fast- forwarding the second phase of their expansion plans. No doubt the aggressive stance of private insurers is already paying rich dividends. But a rejuvenated LIC is also trying to fight back to woo new customers.

Also see:

Allianz Bajaj Life Insurance Company posts phenomenal growth in its First Complete Fiscal 2002- 2003 (Source- Company Press Release)

 


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