New Delhi: Unlike existing life insurers, who have failed to break even even after being in business for eight years, new entrants say they are confident of making profits within seven years by trimming costs from the get-go.
In 2008 alone, four life insurers started operations in India: IDBI Fortis Life Insurance Co. Ltd, Canara HSBC Oriental Bank of Commerce Life Insurance Co. Ltd, Aegon Religare Life Insurance Co. Ltd and Future Generali India Life Insurance Co. Ltd.
(LOWER COSTS QUICKER GAINS) A comparison of cost structure of these four firms shows a focus on lower allocation and distribution costs. In India, expenses for both a life insurer and the insured are front-loaded, with a big chunk of premium in the first year going as allocation charges towards writing off distribution costs such as an agent’s commission.
“Low premium allocation charges is the beginning of a new trend among new entrants. Even if their distribution commissions are low but services and products are good, low commissions can never be a hindrance to sell the product,” said Rajiv Deep Bajaj, chairman of Bajaj Capital Ltd, a New Delhi-based financial services provider.
“We are looking forward to break even within seven years of our operation,” said Amish Tripathi, national head of marketing and product management, IDBI Fortis. “The allocation charges of our Wealthsurance plan, a unit-linked insurance plan, or Ulip, is kept as low as 3.5%. Low charges makes the policy more saleable and you don’t need to pay distributors such a high commission to sell the policy, and therefore control your cost too.”
This differentiated approach spells benefits to policy holders too, who can invest more. Some of the existing policies have allocation charges as high as 60%. This means out of every Rs100, only Rs40 is invested, in the first year of the policy.
Aegon Religare also announced that all its branches will break even within three years of their operation so that soaring sales do not impact their profitability. “The company as a whole will break even within seven years of its operation but all our branches will break even within three years,” said Rajiv Jamkhedhar, CEO of Aegon Religare.
To keep costs low, Future Generali started the concept of mall assurance, an initiative to sell insurance policies at malls, resulting in low distribution costs.
Fresh business, or first-year premiums, in the sector as a whole grew by 23.31% to Rs92,989 crore in 2007-08 from a year ago. In the two preceding fiscals, business had grown even faster at 94.96% and 47.94%, respectively, according to a report by the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority.
Other life insurers have not been able to break even yet, except SBI Life Insurance Co. Ltd and Shriram Life Insurance Co. Ltd, because of soaring policy sales. The high growth rate is forcing insurers to dig deeper into their pockets to boost capital so they can cover related costs and underwriting risk, delaying their payback period.