Insurance sector in India has tremendous potential for growth. Here is a brief profile of insurance industry in India.

Insurance Sector in India

Insurance sector in India is one of the booming sectors of the economy and is growing at the rate of 15-20 per cent annum. Together with banking services, it contributes to about 7 per cent to the country's GDP. Insurance is a federal subject in India and Insurance industry in India is governed by Insurance Act, 1938, the Life Insurance Corporation Act, 1956 and General Insurance Business (Nationalisation) Act, 1972, Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) Act, 1999 and other related Acts.

The origin of life insurance in India can be traced back to 1818 with the establishment of the Oriental Life Insurance Company in Calcutta. It was conceived as a means to provide for English Widows. In those days a higher premium was charged for Indian lives than the non-Indian lives as Indian lives were considered riskier for coverage. The Bombay Mutual Life Insurance Society that started its business in 1870 was the first company to charge same premium for both Indian and non-Indian lives. In 1912, insurance regulation formally began with the passing of Life Insurance Companies Act and the Provident Fund Act.

By 1938, there were 176 insurance companies in India. But a number of frauds during 1920s and 1930s tainted the image of insurance industry in India. In 1938, the first comprehensive legislation regarding insurance was introduced with the passing of Insurance Act of 1938 that provided strict State Control over insurance business.

Insurance sector in India grew at a faster pace after independence. In 1956, Government of India brought together 245 Indian and foreign insurers and provident societies under one nationalised monopoly corporation and formed Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) by an Act of Parliament, viz. LIC Act, 1956, with a capital contribution of Rs.5 crore.

The (non-life) insurance business/general insurance remained with the private sector till 1972. There were 107 private companies involved in the business of general operations and their operations were restricted to organised trade and industry in large cities. The General Insurance Business (Nationalisation) Act, 1972 nationalised the general insurance business in India with effect from January 1, 1973. The 107 private insurance companies were amalgamated and grouped into four companies: National Insurance Company, New India Assurance Company, Oriental Insurance Company and United India Insurance Company. These were subsidiaries of the General Insurance Company (GIC).

In 1993, the first step towards insurance sector reforms was initiated with the formation of Malhotra Committee, headed by former Finance Secretary and RBI Governor R.N. Malhotra. The committee was formed to evaluate the Indian insurance industry and recommend its future direction with the objective of complementing the reforms initiated in the financial sector.

Key Recommendations of Malhotra Committee

Regulatory Body
Customer Service
Malhotra Committee also proposed setting up an independent regulatory body - The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) to provide greater autonomy to insurance companies in order to improve their performance and enable them to act as independent companies with economic motives.

Insurance sector in India was liberalized in March 2000 with the passage of the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) Bill, lifting all entry restrictions for private players and allowing foreign players to enter the market with some limits on direct foreign ownership. There is a 26 percent equity cap for foreign partners in an insurance company. There is a proposal to increase this limit to 49 percent. The opening up of the insurance sector has led to rapid growth of the sector. Presently, there are 16 life insurance companies and 15 non-life insurance companies in the market. The potential for growth of insurance industry in India is immense as nearly 80 per cent of Indian population is without life insurance cover while health insurance and non-life insurance continues to be well below international standards.

Note: The above information was last updated on 21-07-2007