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Monday, March 26, 2012

IRDA introduces the declined risk pool for the Indian Motor Insurance industry.

The last fiscal was not at all encouraging to the Indian Motor Insurance Industry. The loss ratio currently stands at 145%. Simply put for every Rs 100 premium paid, the loss incurred is Rs 45. Under the Indian Government Laws, third party cover is a mandatory purchase along with the purchase of your vehicle. However due to high losses, private insurers refrained from providing third party covers. Therefore Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) came up with this motor third party pool in 2007, where premiums pertaining to third-party risks collected by all general insurance companies are added to this pool. All claims paid are debited to this motor pool. Based on the market share of the insurance companies, the losses from the third party pool were shared by the insurance companies. The third party premium for all vehicles is regulated and insurers have no role in deciding the premium. As a result efficiencies have found its way and even those insurance companies which were not aggressive with car insurance had to bear the brunt of these loses because of their market share.

However this third party pool would undergo a change from April 1st, 2012. IRDA has already come up with their guidelines addressing the concerns raised by the loss making car insurance market. They have recently formed another pool called the “declined risk pool for third party motor policies”. This new pool would apply to commercial vehicles for standalone third party insurance liability. Comprehensive motor insurance cannot be settled from this pool. Third-party insurance cover protects the vehicle owner from any financial liability in case of damage to life or property in an accident to the third person. Comprehensive motor insurance adds the personal vehicle damage cover also to it. Comprehensive motor insurances are hence more expensive. The removal of the comprehensive policy would shrink the size of the newly proposed motor pool to a quarter of its original size. The present size is about Rs 6000 crore. According to IRDA, the insurance companies would retain 20% of the gross premium in their own account, 10% would go to General Insurance Corporation of India and the rest 70% would go to the motor pool.

This new declined pool would hopefully reduce the loss ratio of the motor insurance market and make things more transparent and fair for the insurance companies. However in view of these new regulations and other inflationary measures, motor insurance premium might go up by 10- 15%.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Indian Life Insurance Companies Vs IRDA

The Insurance Regulatory Authority of India (IRDA) has always been the responsible Big Daddy of the insurance industry in India. It has always tried to ensure that things are running smooth and that no one is unfairly holding an edge over the others. However of late, the relationship between IRDA and the Life Insurance Companies of India has been stained. Both sides have their own gamut of reasoning for this rift. IRDA complains of risky and unethical business by these life insurance companies. The latter on the other hand is claiming that the regulator’s tight guidelines are pushing them to adopt previously untried methods. The two major causes of frown for the IRDA are the use of foreign reinsurers by the life insurance companies and the introduction of umbrella products which offers multiple policies under one product.

Before moving to discuss the first issue it is imperative that we understand what and who these reinsurers are. Reinsurance is a form of insurance where the insurance companies redirect the risk to another insurance company for some commission. Some foreign reinsurers currently popular in India are Swiss Re, Munich Re. IRDA has no control over the foreign reinsurers. So by using reinsurers, life insurance companies are naturally making IRDA uncomfortable. IRDA reasons that the end user or the customer is not fully exposed to the risk which they face if they buy such products. For Example if the reinsurer defaults due to credit risk, it is transferred to the insurer and ultimately the customers. The reason why foreign reinsurers are popular is because they offer competitive rates. However exposure to credit risk default is also higher.

The second issue of IRDA is using umbrella products to bring in multiple policies under one. IRDA claims that when the life insurance companies submit their products for clearance, there are fewer funds. But once cleared the funds proliferate. These funds may be significantly smaller in value. Ultimately the customer ends up with a collection of funds which may actually not result in much capital gain. Interestingly though when the Mutual Fund industry had started launching similar products, the capital market regulator had asked them to bring it under one umbrella product. They claimed that this would help remove confusion from the customers.

On the other side of the coin, the life insurance companies feel that IRDA has come down harshly on every profitable idea in the past year starting from pension plans to highest NAV guaranteed products. Earlier in September 2010, the life insurance industry received a major blow due to the restrictions imposed on the ULIP products. Initially it was expected that within six months a recovery was evident. However it took much longer than that. Between April – December, 2011 the premiums collected by the life insurance companies went down 17% reported in the same period a year ago. Also the number of policies issued was down by 11%. It seems that IRDA is changing things too frequently and the life insurance companies are finding it difficult to absorb these changes in their business models. The resistance of the life insurers is meekly visible in the absence of any pension plans after the guidelines were revised to ensure guaranteed returns.

IRDA has also recommended zone-wise distribution tie-ups between bank and insurance companies. This bancassurance guideline has not gone very well with the life insurers. They feel that this would complicate things as the whole business of bancassurance is based on commitment from either side. The financial institutions still have some way to go before they can successfully implement the zone-wise distribution recommendation.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

2012 - The LIC ONGC story so far

For this fiscal ending March 2012 the Government of India had a firm target of acquiring Rs 40,000 crores through its disinvestment strategies. Part of its strategy to achieve the target was the 5% stake offer of Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC). However a flurry of over expectation, bad marketing and perilous economic scenario threatened to completely pulverize this move. Once again, as we have seen in the past, Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) came to its rescue.

How LIC saved the day –

The average quoted price per share was Rs 303.67, which is actually about 5% higher than its floor price of Rs 290. The auction got lukewarm response from foreign financial institutions and domestic banks. The over estimation almost lead to an embarrassing flop. But when things started to look bad, LIC opted to buy about 4.6% stake (of the available 5% stake) or about 40 crore shares thus pushing its investment to about Rs Rs 12,146.80. Till the October – December quarter of this fiscal, LIC already had 3.23% stake in ONGC. With this new investment their total stake has risen to about 8%. This is of course less than the 10% cap imposed by Insurance Regulatory Authority of India (IRDA) on any insurance companies.

What was the cost of this investment to LIC?

The value of share came down to Rs 280 in just two days. That means in just two days, LIC made a loss of about Rs 912 crores. The recent Union Budget added to its woes. Finance Minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee hiked the cess on crude and petroleum oil to Rs 4500 per tone from Rs 2500 per tone. This move would eventually bring down ONGC profit before tax by Rs 5500 crore. Obviously a decrease in stock price was on its way. As I write this article, ONGC’s stock price was hovering over Rs 272 – 273. If you do the math it is not difficult to understand that the loss is around Rs. 1200 crores. The budgetary move has also encouraged Bank of America Merril Lynch to downgrade ONGC shares to “neutral” from its earlier recommendation of “buy”.

What’s ahead?

Government of India’s strategy of transferring money from one pocket (LIC) to the other pocket (Government of India) worked out in the above case. It remains to be seen what interesting episodes awaits this eco-political drama when it sets out to achieve its remaining target.

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Sahara India Life Insurance introduces new child educational plan.

Sahara India Life Insurance, the first wholly Indian-owned life insurance company in the private sector, has introduced a new child educational plan. The plan is called “The Sahara Vatsalya Jeevan Bima” and has the following features.

- The plan is available for parents aged between 20 to 50 years and for their children aged between 0 – 12 years.

- The educational benefits come when the child is 19 years old. The parents or the policyholders would receive four annual installments – 20%, 25%, 25% and 30% respectively.

- By the time the child is 22 years old, the policy matures and all vested bonuses are paid along with the last installment which is 30% of the educational benefit assured.

- In case of an unfortunate demise of the parent, the sum assured and the vested bonuses would be paid immediately to the nominee.

- The premiums paid are eligible for Income Tax Benefits. The plan also includes accidental benefit and permanent disability benefit rider.

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