Health Insurance: It provides cover, which takes care of medical expenses following hospitalization from sudden illness or accident.
Personal Accident Insurance: This insurance policy provides compensation for loss of life or injury (partial or permanent) caused by an accident. This includes reimbursement of cost of treatment and the use of hospital facilities for the treatment.
Travel Insurance: The policy covers the insured against various eventualities while traveling abroad. It covers the insured against personal accident, medical expenses and repatriation, loss of checked baggage, passport etc.
Liability Insurance: This policy indemnifies the Directors or Officers or other professionals against loss arising from claims made against them by reason of any wrongful Act in their Official capacity.
Motor Insurance: Motor Vehicles Act states that every motor vehicle plying on the road has to be insured, with at least Liability only policy. There are two types of policy one covering the act of liability, while other covers insurers all liability and damage caused to one’s vehicles.
JOURNEY FROM AN INFANT TO ADOLESCENCE!
The history of life insurance in India dates back to 1818 when it was conceived as a means to provide for English Widows. Interestingly in those days a higher premium was charged for Indian lives than the non-Indian lives as Indian lives were considered more risky for coverage.
The Bombay Mutual Life Insurance Society started its business in 1870. It was the first company to charge same premium for both Indian and non-Indian lives. The Oriental Assurance Company was established in 1880. The General insurance business in India, on the other hand, can trace its roots to the Triton (Tital) Insurance Company Limited, the first general insurance company established in the year 1850 in Calcutta by the British. Till the end of nineteenth century insurance business was almost entirely in the hands of overseas companies.
Insurance regulation formally began in India with the passing of the Life Insurance Companies Act of 1912 and the Provident Fund Act of 1912. Several frauds during 20’s and 30’s desecrated insurance business in India. By 1938 there were 176 insurance companies. The first comprehensive legislation was introduced with the Insurance Act of 1938 that provided strict State Control over insurance business. The insurance business grew at a faster pace after independence. Indian companies strengthened their hold on this business but despite the growth that was witnessed, insurance remained an urban phenomenon.
The Government of India in 1956, brought together over 240 private life insurers and provident societies under one nationalized monopoly corporation and Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) was born. Nationalization was justified on the grounds that it would create much needed funds for rapid industrialization. This was in conformity with the Government’s chosen path of State lead planning and development.
The (non-life) insurance business continued to prosper with the private sector till 1972. Their operations were restricted to organized trade and industry in large cities. The general insurance industry was nationalized in 1972. With this, nearly 107 insurers were amalgamated and grouped into four companies – National Insurance Company, New India Assurance Company, Oriental Insurance Company and United India Insurance Company. These were subsidiaries of the General Insurance Company (GIC).
The life insurance industry was nationalized under the Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) Act of India. In some ways, the LIC has become very flourishing. Regardless of being a monopoly, it has some 60-70 million policyholders. Given that the Indian middle-class is around 250-300 million, the LIC has managed to capture some 30 odd percent of it. Around 48% of the customers of the LIC are from rural and semi-urban areas. This probably would not have happened had the charter of the LIC not specifically set out the goal of serving the rural areas. A high saving rate in India is one of the exogenous factors that have helped the LIC to grow rapidly in recent years. Despite the saving rate being high in India (compared with other countries with a similar level of development), Indians display high degree of risk aversion. Thus, nearly half of the investments are in physical assets (like property and gold). Around twenty three percent are in (low yielding but safe) bank deposits. In addition, some 1.3 percent of the GDP are in life insurance related savings vehicles. This figure has doubled between 1985 and 1995.
A World viewpoint – Life Insurance in India
In many countries, insurance has been a form of savings. In many developed countries, a significant fraction of domestic saving is in the form of donation insurance plans. This is not surprising. The prominence of some developing countries is more surprising. For example, South Africa features at the number two spot. India is nestled between Chile and Italy. This is even more surprising given the levels of economic development in Chile and Italy. Thus, we can conclude that there is an insurance culture in India despite a low per capita income. This promises well for future growth. Specifically, when the income level improves, insurance (especially life) is likely to grow rapidly.
INSURANCE SECTOR REFORM:
Committee Reports: One Known, One Anonymous!
Although Indian markets were privatized and opened up to foreign companies in a number of sectors in 1991, insurance remained out of bounds on both counts. The government wanted to proceed with caution. With pressure from the opposition, the government (at the time, dominated by the Congress Party) decided to set up a committee headed by Mr. R. N. Malhotra (the then Governor of the Reserve Bank of India).
Liberalization of the Indian insurance market was suggested in a report released in 1994 by the Malhotra Committee, indicating that the market should be opened to private-sector competition, and eventually, foreign private-sector competition. It also investigated the level of satisfaction of the customers of the LIC. Inquisitively, the level of customer satisfaction seemed to be high.
In 1993, Malhotra Committee – headed by former Finance Secretary and RBI Governor Mr. R. N. Malhotra – was formed to evaluate the Indian insurance industry and recommend its future course. The Malhotra committee was set up with the aim of complementing the reforms initiated in the financial sector. The reforms were aimed at creating a more efficient and competitive financial system suitable for the needs of the economy keeping in mind the structural changes presently happening and recognizing that insurance is an important part of the overall financial system where it was necessary to address the need for similar reforms. In 1994, the committee submitted the report and some of the key recommendations included:
Government bet in the insurance Companies to be brought down to 50%. Government should take over the holdings of GIC and its subsidiaries so that these subsidiaries can act as independent corporations. All the insurance companies should be given greater freedom to operate.
Private Companies with a minimum paid up capital of Rs.1 billion should be allowed to enter the sector. No Company should deal in both Life and General Insurance through a single entity. Foreign companies may be allowed to enter the industry in collaboration with the domestic companies. Postal Life Insurance should be allowed to operate in the rural market. Only one State Level Life Insurance Company should be allowed to operate in each state.
o Regulatory Body
The Insurance Act should be changed. An Insurance Regulatory body should be set up. Controller of Insurance – a part of the Finance Ministry- should be made Independent.
Compulsory Investments of LIC Life Fund in government securities to be reduced from 75% to 50%. GIC and its subsidiaries are not to hold more than 5% in any company (there current holdings to be brought down to this level over a period of time).
o Customer Service
LIC should pay interest on delays in payments beyond 30 days. Insurance companies must be encouraged to set up unit linked pension plans. Computerization of operations and updating of technology to be carried out in the insurance industry. The committee accentuated that in order to improve the customer services and increase the coverage of insurance policies, industry should be opened up to competition. But at the same time, the committee felt the need to exercise caution as any failure on the part of new competitors could ruin the public confidence in the industry. Hence, it was decided to allow competition in a limited way by stipulating the minimum capital requirement of Rs.100 crores.
The committee felt the need to provide greater autonomy to insurance companies in order to improve their performance and enable them to act as independent companies with economic motives. For this purpose, it had proposed setting up an independent regulatory body – The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority.
Reforms in the Insurance sector were initiated with the passage of the IRDA Bill in Parliament in December 1999. The IRDA since its incorporation as a statutory body in April 2000 has meticulously stuck to its schedule of framing regulations and registering the private sector insurance companies.
Since being set up as an independent statutory body the IRDA has put in a framework of globally compatible regulations. The other decision taken at the same time to provide the supporting systems to the insurance sector and in particular the life insurance companies was the launch of the IRDA online service for issue and renewal of licenses to agents. The approval of institutions for imparting training to agents has also ensured that the insurance companies would have a trained workforce of insurance agents in place to sell their products.
The Government of India liberalized 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 lid 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
Immediately after the publication of the Malhotra Committee Report, a new committee, Mukherjee Committee was set up to make concrete plans for the requirements of the newly formed insurance companies. Recommendations of the Mukherjee Committee were never disclosed to the public. But, from the information that filtered out it became clear that the committee recommended the inclusion of certain ratios in insurance company balance sheets to ensure transparency in accounting. But the Finance Minister objected to it and it was argued by him, probably on the advice of some of the potential competitors, that it could affect the prospects of a developing insurance company.
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