Insurance, in the words of a layman, means managing risk.

For instance, in life insurance segment, the insurance company tries to manage mortality (death) rates among the wide array of clients.

The insurance company works in a manner by collecting premiums from policy holders, investing the money (usually in low risk investments), and then reimbursing this same money once the person passes away or the policy matures.

The greater the probability for a person to have a shorter life span than the average mark, the higher premium that person has to pay. The case is the same for all other types of insurance, including automobile, health and property.

Ownership of insurance companies is of two types:

Shareholder ownership

Policyholder ownership

Types of Insurance

Life Insurance - Insurance guaranteeing a specific sum of money to a designated beneficiary upon the death of the insured, or to the insured if he or she lives beyond a certain age.

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Health Insurance - Insurance against expenses incurred through illness of the insured.

Liability Insurance - This insures property such as automobiles, property and professional/business mishaps.

Challenges facing Insurance Industry

Threat of New Entrants: The insurance industry has been budding with new entrants every other day. Therefore the companies should carve out niche areas such that the threat of new entrants might not be a hindrance. There is also a chance that the big players might squeeze the small new entrants.

Power of Suppliers: Those who are supplying the capital are not that big a threat. For instance, if someone as a very talented insurance underwriter is presently working for a small insurance company, there exists a chance that any big player willing to enter the insurance industry might entice that person off.

Power of Buyers: No individual is a big threat to the insurance industry and big corporate houses have a lot more negotiating capability with the insurance companies. Big corporate clients like airlines and pharmaceutical companies pay millions of dollars every year in premiums.

Availability of Substitutes: There exist a lot of substitutes in the insurance industry. Majorly, the large insurance companies provide similar kinds of services - be it auto, home, commercial, health or life insurance.

Evolution of the Insurance Sector in India and the Reforms

The insurance sector in India has completed all the facets of competition -from being an open competitive market to being nationalized and then getting back to the form of a liberalized market once again. The history of the insurance sector in India reveals that it has witnessed complete dynamism for the past two centuries approximately.

In India, insurance has a deep-rooted history. It finds mention in the writings of Manu ( Manusmrithi ), Yagnavalkya (Dharmasastra ) and Kautilya ( Arthasastra ). The writings talk in terms of pooling of resources that could be re-distributed in times of calamities such as fire, floods, epidemics and famine. This was probably a pre-cursor to modern day insurance. Ancient Indian history has preserved the earliest traces of insurance in the form of marine trade loans and carriers' contracts. Insurance in India has evolved over time heavily drawing from other countries, England in particular.

â-ª 1818 saw the advent of life insurance business in India with the establishment of the Oriental Life Insurance Company in Calcutta. This Company however failed in 1834. In 1829, the Madras Equitable had begun transacting life insurance business in the Madras Presidency. 1870 saw the enactment of the British Insurance Act and in the last three decades of the nineteenth century, the Bombay Mutual (1871), Oriental (1874) and Empire of India (1897) were started in the Bombay Residency. This era, however, was dominated by foreign insurance offices which did good business in India, namely Albert Life Assurance, Royal Insurance, Liverpool and London Globe Insurance and the Indian offices were up for hard competition from the foreign companies.

â-ª In 1914, the Government of India started publishing returns of Insurance Companies in India. The Indian Life Assurance Companies Act, 1912 was the first statutory measure to regulate life business. In 1928, the Indian Insurance Companies Act was enacted to enable the Government to collect statistical information about both life and non-life business transacted in India by Indian and foreign insurers including provident insurance societies. In 1938, with a view to protecting the interest of the Insurance public, the earlier legislation was consolidated and amended by the Insurance Act, 1938 with comprehensive provisions for effective control over the activities of insurers.

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â-ª The Insurance Amendment Act of 1950 abolished Principal Agencies. However, there were a large number of insurance companies and the level of competition was high. There were also allegations of unfair trade practices. The Government of India, therefore, decided to nationalize insurance business.

â-ª An Ordinance was issued on 19th January, 1956 nationalising the Life Insurance sector and Life Insurance Corporation came into existence in the same year. The LIC absorbed 154 Indian, 16 non-Indian insurers as also 75 provident societies-245 Indian and foreign insurers in all. The LIC had monopoly till the late 90s when the Insurance sector was reopened to the private sector.


â-ª The history of general insurance dates back to the Industrial Revolution in the west and the consequent growth of sea-faring trade and commerce in the 17th century. It came to India as a legacy of British occupation. General Insurance in India has its roots in the establishment of Triton Insurance Company Ltd., in the year 1850 in Calcutta by the British. In 1907, the Indian Mercantile Insurance Ltd, was set up. This was the first company to transact all classes of general insurance business.

â-ª In 1968, the Insurance Act was amended to regulate investments and set minimum solvency margins. The Tariff Advisory Committee was also set up then.


â-ª In 1972 with the passing of the General Insurance Business (Nationalisation) Act, general insurance business was nationalized with effect from 1st January, 1973. 107 insurers were amalgamated and grouped into four companies, namely National Insurance Company Ltd., the New India Assurance Company Ltd., the Oriental Insurance Company Ltd and the United India Insurance Company Ltd. The General Insurance Corporation of India was incorporated as a company in 1971 and it commence business on January 1sst 1973.


â-ª This millennium has seen insurance come a full circle in a journey extending to nearly 200 years. The process of re-opening of the sector had begun in the early 1990s and the last decade and more has seen it been opened up substantially. In 1993, the Government set up a committee under the chairmanship of RN Malhotra, former Governor of RBI, to propose recommendations for reforms in the insurance sector.The objective was to complement the reforms initiated in the financial sector. The committee submitted its report in 1994 wherein , among other things, it recommended that the private sector be permitted to enter the insurance industry. They stated that foreign companies be allowed to enter by floating Indian companies, preferably a joint venture with Indian partners.

In 1994, the committee submitted the report and some of the key recommendations included:

1) Structure

Government stake 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.

2) Competition

Private Companies with a minimum paid up capital of Rs.1bn should be allowed to enter the industry.

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.

3) Regulatory Body

The Insurance Act should be changed.

An Insurance Regulatory body should be set up.

Controller of Insurance (Currently a part from the Finance Ministry) should be made independent.

4) Investments

Mandatory 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).

5) 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.

Computerisation of operations and updating of technology to be carried out in the insurance industry The committee emphasized that in order to improve the customer services and increase the coverage of the insurance industry should be opened up to competition.

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But at the same time, the committee felt the need to exercise caution as any failure on the part of new players 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.

â-ª Following the recommendations of the Malhotra Committee report, in 1999, the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) was constituted as an autonomous body to regulate and develop the insurance industry. The IRDA was incorporated as a statutory body in April, 2000. The key objectives of the IRDA include promotion of competition so as to enhance customer satisfaction through increased consumer choice and lower premiums, while ensuring the financial security of the insurance market.

â-ª The IRDA opened up the market in August 2000 with the invitation for application for registrations. Foreign companies were allowed ownership of up to 26%. The Authority has the power to frame regulations under Section 114A of the Insurance Act, 1938 and has from 2000 onwards framed various regulations ranging from registration of companies for carrying on insurance business to protection of policyholders' interests.

â-ª In December, 2000, the subsidiaries of the General Insurance Corporation of India were restructured as independent companies and at the same time GIC was converted into a national re-insurer. Parliament passed a bill de-linking the four subsidiaries from GIC in July, 2002.

â-ª Today there are 24 general insurance companies including the ECGC and Agriculture Insurance Corporation of India and 23 life insurance companies operating in the country.


â-ª The insurance sector is a colossal one and is growing at a speedy rate of 15-20%. Together with banking services, insurance services add about 7% to the country's GDP. A well-developed and evolved insurance sector is a boon for economic development as it provides long- term funds for infrastructure development at the same time strengthening the risk taking ability of the country.

Insurance companies in India

Insurance sector has been opened up for competition from Indian private insurance companies with the enactment of Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority Act, 1999 (IRDA Act). As per the provisions of IRDA Act, 1999, Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) was established on 19th April 2000 to protect the interests of holder of insurance policy and to regulate, promote and ensure orderly growth of the insurance industry. IRDA Act 1999 paved the way for the entry of private players into the insurance market which was hitherto the exclusive privilege of public sector insurance companies/ corporations. Under the new dispensation Indian insurance companies in private sector were permitted to operate in India with the following conditions:

Company is formed and registered under the Companies Act, 1956;

The aggregate holdings of equity shares by a foreign company, either by itself or through its subsidiary companies or its nominees, do not exceed 26%, paid up equity capital of such Indian insurance company;

The company's sole purpose is to carry on life insurance business or general insurance business or reinsurance business.

The minimum paid up equity capital for life or general insurance business is Rs.100 crores.

The minimum paid up equity capital for carrying on reinsurance business has been prescribed as Rs.200 crores.

The Authority has notified 27 Regulations on various issues which include Registration of Insurers, Regulation on insurance agents, Solvency Margin, Re-insurance, Obligation of Insurers to Rural and Social sector, Investment and Accounting Procedure, Protection of policy holders' interest etc. Applications were invited by the Authority with effect from 15th August, 2000 for issue of the Certificate of Registration to both life and non-life insurers. The Authority has its Head Quarter at Hyderabad.

IRDA has so far granted registration to 12 private life insurance companies and 9 general insurance companies. If the existing public sector insurance companies are included, there are currently 13 insurance companies in the life side and 13 companies operating in general insurance business. General Insurance Corporation has been approved as the "Indian reinsurer" for underwriting only reinsurance business. Particulars of the life insurance companies and general insurance companies including their web address are given below:



Public Sector

Life Insurance Corporation of India

Private Sector

Allianz Bajaj Life Insurance Company Limited

Birla Sun-Life Insurance Company Limited

HDFC Standard Life Insurance Co. Limited

ICICI Prudential Life Insurance Co. Limited

ING Vysya Life Insurance Company Limited

Max New York Life Insurance Co. Limited

MetLife Insurance Company Limited

Om Kotak Mahindra Life Insurance Co. Ltd.

SBI Life Insurance Company Limited

TATA AIG Life Insurance Company Limited

AMP Sanmar Assurance Company Limited

Dabur CGU Life Insurance Co. Pvt. Limited


Public Sector

National Insurance Company Limited

New India Assurance Company Limited

Oriental Insurance Company Limited

United India Insurance Company Limited

Private Sector

Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Co. Limited

ICICI Lombard General Insurance Co. Ltd.

IFFCO-Tokio General Insurance Co. Ltd.

Reliance General Insurance Co. Limited

Royal Sundaram Alliance Insurance Co. Ltd.

TATA AIG General Insurance Co. Limited

Cholamandalam General Insurance Co. Ltd.

Export Credit Guarantee Corporation

HDFC Chubb General Insurance Co. Ltd.


General Insurance Corporation of India

Protection of the interest of policy holders

IRDA has the responsibility of protecting the interest of insurance policyholders. Towards achieving this objective, the Authority has taken the following steps:

IRDA has notified Protection of Policyholders Interest Regulations 2001 to provide for: policy proposal documents in easily understandable language; claims procedure in both life and non-life; setting up of grievance redressal machinery; speedy settlement of claims; and policyholders' servicing. The Regulation also provides for payment of interest by insurers for the delay in settlement of claim.

The insurers are required to maintain solvency margins so that they are in a position to meet their obligations towards policyholders with regard to payment of claims.

It is obligatory on the part of the insurance companies to disclose clearly the benefits, terms and conditions under the policy. The advertisements issued by the insurers should not mislead the insuring public.

All insurers are required to set up proper grievance redress machinery in their head office and at their other offices.

The Authority takes up with the insurers any complaint received from the policyholders in connection with services provided by them under the insurance contract.

 Indian Insurance Policies at a Glance

India insurance is a flourishing industry, with several national and international players competing and growing at rapid rates. Thanks to reforms and the easing of policy regulations, the Indian insurance sector been allowed to flourish, and as Indians become more familiar with different insurance products, this growth can only increase, with the period from 2010 - 2015 projected to be the 'Golden Age' for the Indian insurance industy.

Indian insurance companies offer a comprehensive range of insurance plans, a range that is growing as the economy matures and the wealth of the middle classes increases. The most common types include: term life policies, endowment policies, joint life policies, whole life policies, loan cover term assurance policies, unit-linked insurance plans, group insurance policies, pension plans, and annuities. General insurance plans are also available to cover motor insurance, home insurance, travel insurance and health insurance.

Due to the growing demand for insurance, more and more insurance companies are now emerging in the Indian insurance sector. With the opening up of the economy, several international leaders in the insurance sector are trying to venture into the India insurance industry.

Future Prospects

Indian insurance sector is likely to register unprecedented growth of 200% and attain a size of Rs. 2000 billion ($51.2 billion) by 2010-11, in which a private sector insurance business will achieve a growth rate of 140% as a result of aggressive marketing technique being adopted by them against 35-40% growth rate of state owned insurance companies.

The aforesaid findings are made by The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) on `Insurance in Next 2 Years', saying that in the last couple of years, the insurance sector has grown by CAGR of around 175% and the trend will emerge still better because of potential factor. Currently, the insurance sector size is estimated at Rs.500 billion ($12.8 billion).

The private insurance players despite the sector is still regulated has been offering rate of return (RoR) to its policy holders which is estimated at about 35% as against 20% of domestic insurance companies. This factor is mainly responsible for hike in private insurance market share which will grow further which is why the ASSOCHAM estimates that its growth rate could even exceed 140%.

Secondly, the state owned insurance companies such as LIC and GIC have limited number of policies to offer to their subscribers while in case of private insurance companies, their policy numbers are many more and the premium amount as well as the maturity period is much competitive as against those of government insurance companies.

The private sector insurance players have started exploring the rural markets in which until recently, the state owned companies had the monopoly.

The Chamber has projected that in rural markets, the share of private insurance players would increase substantially as these have been able to generate a faith among their rural consumers.

Estimating the potential of the Indian insurance market from the perspective of macro-economic variables such as the ratio of premium to GDP, ASSOCHAM reveals that India's life insurance premium, as a percentage of GDP is 1.8% against 5.2% in the US, 6.5% in the UK or 8% in South Korea.

To understand the prospects for insurance companies in rural India, it is very important to understand the requirements of India's villagers, their daily lives, their peculiar needs and their occupational structures. There are farmers, craftsmen, milkmen, weavers, casual labourers, construction workers and shopkeepers and so on. More often than not, they are into more than one profession.