For an insurance company, it actually helps if clients default on policies that have not acquired any surrender value

A business paper recently carried a story about life insurance policies worth over a trillion rupees which have lapsed. Some of the interesting bits are:

i) A total of 9.1 million policies lapsed in 2009

ii) The lapse ratio for ICICI Prudential Life Insurance Co Ltd, the life insurance arm of India’s largest private sector lender ICICI Bank Ltd, stood at 53% in 2009, up from 40% in the previous year. About 777,000 conventional policies worth Rs25,269 crore lapsed, the highest among private insurers by value. (Obviously, ICICI does not want to miss market share any which way)

iii) In terms of lapse ratio, Aviva Life Insurance Co India Ltd, leads the list with 32,000 policies or 59% lapsed

iv) Reliance Life Insurance Co Ltd saw its lapse ratio almost double—40% in 2009 against 21% a year ago.

iv) Life Insurance Corp of India (LIC) declined to 4% for 2009 from 6% in the previous year. In absolute terms, nearly 7.3 million traditional policies worth Rs52,926 crore lapsed. Almost half the conventional policies that lapsed in the industry in 2009 were sold by LIC.

If this is not rampant mis-selling, I do not know what is. Most insurance companies do not repay or refund anything, if the policies are less than three years paid up. After three years, the agents’ commissions drop to ‘small’ levels of 2.5%-5%, so he cares two hoots. He would rather tell the fool (the client) to take a different policy after ditching the old, since it would give him a higher commission.

The great thing is that the paper quotes the Max New York honcho as saying that it is not mis-selling but “it indicates a lack of understanding on the part of policyholders”. Sir, who delivers the ‘understanding’?

Most insurance companies have a scheme or a process to ‘revive’ lapsed policies within around three years of the last premium paid. After that, they quietly pocket the money. So, for an insurance company, it actually helps if clients default on policies that have not acquired any surrender value. Probably, they must be hoping for this to happen every year and would be part of their business goals for each year. Probably, they reward agents who bring in such kind of clients into their web of deceit.

It is time people woke up. IRDA, being run by retired guys with either LIC or RBI backgrounds, will never help the insured. They are the owners’ representatives. The ideal rules would be:

i) When policies lapse, blacklist the agent/withdraw his IRDA code, so that he can get no more commissions and sell no more policies. This is the best way to ensure that the mis-selling stops.

ii) When there is a lapse, the insurance companies should refund the amounts collected less the charges they have actually incurred. For instance, if I have paid Rs2,000 per year for two years, I should get a refund of something like Rs2,000-Rs3,000. This should be made statutory and any violation should result in a heavy penalty on the insurance company.

iii) A list of lapsed policies should be put online compulsorily.

iv) Surrender values should be made compulsory even for a one premium old policy. Why should the insurance company rob the payer?
The other option is to explore if third-party buyers of lapsed policies can emerge legally. Maybe they can take a call on whether to revive the policy and take the assignment in their favour and continue it. All possibilities exist.

I am sure that the IRDA will do zilch to resolve this issue. It is high time that the finance ministry stepped in and passed the supervision to another body where the insured is also taken care of. If SEBI can handle mutual funds, I am sure it can handle insurance also. After all, every product they sell (except the pure term policy which they hide) is an investment product with some optional insurance.

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2 thoughts on “Life insurers are happy to see you skip premium payments

  1. I agree that insurance companies should repay some amount to policyholders for lapsed policies. I remember the RBI had come down heavily on residual non-banking finance companies (such as Peerless & Sahara) for lapsed polcies…why can't IRDA do the same?

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  2. IRDA, I think remains quiet because the members are retired government servants, grateful for two more years of car, driver and limelight (which perhaps they never enjoyed. Also, there is always someone from LIC. So, why rock the boat?

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