While it is pretty clear that Indians are grossly underinsured and that means they are living dangerously, let us see how they can pick up the right insurer in case they are convinced of its utility in their lives. The IRDAI Handbook 2016-17 is full of data comparing the performance indicators of the insurers. The first one is duration-wise settlement of death claims. The regulator has clearly asked the insurers to settle non-early claims within 15 days and early claims within 90 days. Non-early claims are settled only on receipt of the death certificate and a simple claim form. Claims which arise because of death of the life assured within three years of taking the policies are known as early claims.
Since, some investigations are required before settlement of early claims, more time is allowed in settling such claims. What is the proportion of early claims in the life insurance industry of India? Although no such statistics is available in the Handbook, it can safely be said that it hardly exceeds 20% (as otherwise the insurers will find it difficult to maintain solvency). Therefore, more than 80% claims must be settled within 15 days.
At least, such claims should be positively settled in one month’s time. And no claim should be kept pending after three months. The prospects can easily look at this table to check the speed at which the claims are settled. There were seven insurers who failed to settle at least 80% claims within 30 days in 2016-17. Again, three insurers failed to settle more than 10% of claims even after 90 days.
That means, these insurers take a lot of time in investigating claims. LIC settled more than 92% of claims within one month. A few private insurers have similar claim settlement record.
We can compare the average sum assured under a policy with the average payout (including bonuses, if any) for each of the insurers. It can be found that for most of the insurers, average payout is much less. For a few, average payout is one third or even one fifth of the average sum assured under a policy. There can be two reasons for this. One is that the policies resulting into death claims are in general not the high sum assured policies. Second, many of the high sum assured claims that result into early claims are partly/fully repudiated. While there is no statistics available to ascertain the actual reason, the prospects are suggested to check the claim settlement records of the insurers from friends and associates before taking high insurance cover.
Another way to measure popularity of an insurer is to look at Lapse Ratio. It is defined as Lapses including forfeitures during a year/ Arithmetic Mean of the Business in force at the beginning and at the end of a year, and is expressed in percentage terms. So, Lapse Ratio takes into account the persistency of not just the policies taken in recent years but over the years. Lower the ratio, higher is the acceptance level of the insurer. A high lapse ratio can be due to mis-selling of policies or poor servicing and claims servicing record of the insurers.
Finally, one should see the average productivity of an agent, i.e., number of policies sold by an agent in a year. While an LIC agent sold 18 policies on an average, agents of other insurers sold less than 5 policies in a year on an average. That means, many of the agents are either part-timers or quit very quickly.
The insurers have a large untapped market to penetrate into. People are prospering fast, requiring larger insurance cover. More people will join the workforce as an Indian on an average is only 28 years old. More women will join the workforce in the near future. So, insurers need not worry about the future. They have to sell right products to right people and retain the customers through more innovative customer engagement tools.
The writer is manager (Legal), LIC of India, Asansol Division. All views expressed here are personal