The journey of insurance liberalization process in India is now over seven years old. The first major milestone in this journey has been the passing of Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority Act, 1999. This along with amendments to the Insurance Act 1983, LIC and GIC Acts paves the way for the entry of private players and possibly the privatization of the hitherto public monopolies LIC and GIC. Opening up of insurance to private sector including foreign participation has resulted into various opportunities and challenges.
Concept of Insurance
In our daily life, whenever there is uncertainly there is an involvement of risk. The instinct of security against such risk is one of the basic motivating forces for determining human attitudes. As a sequel to this quest for security, the concept of insurance must have been born. The urge to provide insurance or protection against the loss of life and property must have promoted people to make some sort of sacrifice willingly in order to achieve security through collective co-operation. In this sense, the story of insurance is probably as old as the story of mankind.
Life insurance in particular provides protection to household against the risk of premature death of its income earning member. Life insurance in modern times also provides protection against other life related risks such as that of longevity (i.e. risk of outliving of source of income) and risk of disabled and sickness (health insurance). The products provide for longevity are pensions and annuities (insurance against old age). Non-life insurance provides protection against accidents, property damage, theft and other liabilities. Non-life insurance contracts are typically shorter in duration as compared to life insurance contracts. The bundling together of risk coverage and saving is peculiar of life insurance. Life insurance provides both protection and investment.
Insurance is a boon to business concerns. Insurance provides short range and long range relief. The short-term relief is aimed at protecting the insured from loss of property and life by distributing the loss amongst large number of persons through the medium of professional risk bearers such as insurers. It enables a businessman to face an unforeseen loss and, therefore, he need not worry about the possible loss. The long-range object being the economic and industrial growth of the country by making an investment of huge funds available with insurers in the organized industry and commerce.
Prior to nationalizations of General insurance industry in 1973 the GIC Act was passed in the Parliament in 1971, but it came into effect in 1973. There was 107 General insurance companies including branches of foreign companies operating in the country upon nationalization, these companies were amalgamated and grouped into the following four subsidiaries of GIC such as National Insurance Co.Ltd., Calcutta; The New India Assurance Co. Ltd., Mumbai; The Oriental Insurance Co. Ltd., New Delhi and United India Insurance Co. Ltd., Chennai and Now delinked.
General insurance business in India is broadly divided into fire, marine and miscellaneous GIC apart from directly handling Aviation and Reinsurance business administers the Comprehensive Crop Insurance Scheme, Personal Accident Insurance, Social Security Scheme etc. The GIC and its subsidiaries in keeping with the objective of nationalization to spread the message of insurance far and wide and to provide insurance protection to weaker section of the society are making efforts to design new covers and also to popularize other non-traditional business.
Liberalization of Insurance
The comprehensive regulation of insurance business in India was brought into effect with the enactment of the Insurance Act, 1983. It tried to create a strong and powerful supervision and regulatory authority in the Controller of Insurance with powers to direct, advise, investigate, register and liquidate insurance companies etc. However, consequent upon the nationalization of insurance business, most of the regulatory functions were taken away from the Controller of Insurance and vested in the insurers themselves. The Government of India in 1993 had set up a high powered committee by R.N.Malhotra, former Governor, Reserve Bank of India, to examine the structure of the insurance industry and recommend changes to make it more efficient and competitive keeping in view the structural changes in other parts of the financial system on the country.
Malhotra Committee’s Recommendations
The committee submitted its report in January 1994 recommending that private insurers be allowed to co-exist along with government companies like LIC and GIC companies. This recommendation had been prompted by several factors such as need for greater deeper insurance coverage in the economy, and a much a greater scale of mobilization of funds from the economy, and a much a greater scale of mobilization of funds from the economy for infrastructural development. Liberalization of the insurance sector is at least partly driven by fiscal necessity of tapping the big reserve of savings in the economy. Committee’s recommendations were as follows:
o Raising the capital base of LIC and GIC up to Rs. 200 crores, half retained by the government and rest sold to the public at large with suitable reservations for its employees.
o Private sector is granted to enter insurance industry with a minimum paid up capital of Rs. 100 crores.
o Foreign insurance be allowed to enter by floating an Indian company preferably a joint venture with Indian partners.
o Steps are initiated to set up a strong and effective insurance regulatory in the form of a statutory autonomous board on the lines of SEBI.
o Limited number of private companies to be allowed in the sector. But no firm is allowed in the sector. But no firm is allowed to operate in both lines of insurance (life or non-life).
o Tariff Advisory Committee (TAC) is delinked form GIC to function as a separate statuary body under necessary supervision by the insurance regulatory authority.
oAll insurance companies be treated on equal footing and governed by the provisions of insurance Act. No special dispensation is given to government companies.
oSetting up of a strong and effective regulatory body with independent source for financing before allowing private companies into sector.
competition to government sector:
Government companies have now to face competition to private sector insurance companies not only in issuing various range of insurance products but also in various aspects in terms of customer service, channels of distribution, effective techniques of selling the products etc. privatization of the insurance sector has opened the doors to innovations in the way business can be transacted.
New age insurance companies are embarking on new concepts and more cost effective way of transacting business. The idea is clear to cater to the maximum business at the lest cost. And slowly with time, the age-old norm prevalent with government companies to expand by setting up branches seems getting lost. Among the techniques that seem to catching up fast as an alternative to cater to the rural and social sector insurance is hub and spoke arrangement. These along with the participants of NGOs and Self Help Group (SHGs) have done with most of the selling of the rural and social sector policies.