Sitharaman gives a miss to rejigging government insurers

Last Updated: Sat, Jul 06, 2019 12:56 hrs
Nirmala Sitharaman

Chennai: Contrary to expectations, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has given a miss to the mode of restructuring the three government-owned general insurers in her maiden Budget and in a way the insurance sector has been neglected barring some minor announcements, industry experts said.

"The Finance Minister spoke about Rs 70,000 crore towards recapitalisation of the public sector banks. She also said the government is focused on consolidation in the banking sector. But she was silent on rejigging National Insurance, Oriental Insurance and United India Insurance," an industry expert told IANS, preferring anonymity.

In his 2018 Budget speech, then Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced the government's decision to merge National Insurance, United India and the Oriental Insurance Company and list it on the bourses.

However, nothing much has happened on the restructuring front.

There was no capital infusion plan for the public sector general insurance companies, most of whom require capital to avoid breaching regulatory solvency ratio, said Karthik Srinivasan, Senior Vice President and Group Head-Financial Sector Ratings, ICRA.

Experts said there were various suggestions on the mode of restructuring the three insurers, merging all into one or even converting them into monoline insurer, one underwriting motor insurance, another property insurance and the third one health.

For the insurance sector, Sitharaman allowed 100 per cent foreign direct investment(FDI) in insurance intermediaries from the current 49 per cent.

She also announced the lowering of net-owned funds (NOF) for foreign branches of reinsurers operating in India.

Reacting to that, ICRA's Srinivasan said the move would benefit both life and general insurers by widening the channels of distribution.

"ICRA expects higher foreign participation in insurance brokers, and insurance aggregator channels," he said.

According to Srinivasan, the lowering of NOF for foreign branches of re-insurance companies should foster more re-insurance companies to set up branches in India.

This would primarily benefit the general insurance companies, in getting more competitive re-insurance treaties, and subsequently enabling higher underwriting bandwidth, Srinivasan said.

According to him, the higher outlay for crop insurance would not necessarily result in higher participation from the general insurance companies, as the previous budgeted expenditure was utilised only till about 72 per cent.

The importance and focus on the National Pension Scheme (NPS) by the central government, is evident with the separation of NPS trust from the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority (PFRDA) structure.