There is a shift from Ulips to traditional products

SBI Life, the life insurance subsidiary of State Bank of India, has expanded its operations despite Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority’s sweeping changes in the norms of unit-linked insurance plans from September last year.

MN Rao, managing director and chief executive officer of SBI Life speaks to FE about his strategies to cope up with regulatory challenges. Excerpts:

How SBI Life is faring in the days when the life insurance industry’s numbers are falling?

Business so far has remained satisfactory at SBI Life though falling in line with industry. We have done R2,050 crore of business in the new business premium until August 31 in this financial year, as against R2,390 crore in the corresponding period of the last financial year, thus witnessing a fall by 14% during the period. Now the product mix has changed. We have shifted to low-ticket size product. Still, the total product portfolio remains unchanged from July last year to July this year. Till July during this financial year, our premium has gone up by 3% year-on-year. However, from August 2010 to August 2011, our performance is down by 14%. It has happened as August 2010 (the sales were very good during that particular month) was the last month for all of our old products and we had launched new products in September 2010 in line with the new regulations of regulator Irda. In total business premium, we are growing over last financial year on yield-to-date (YTD) basis in August 2011 when we achieved a sum of R3,983 crore, as compared to R3,706 crore in the corresponding period of the last financial year, thus recording a growth of 7.5%. Going forward, we do expect to show a growth on new business front and total business premium which are expected to go up by 10% and 15-16% respectively by the fiscal-end, as compared to our performance during the last financial year.

While the current volatile capital markets which may not be conducive for Ulips, how are you trying to push traditional products?

As of now, our product mix-Ulip and traditional and corporate solutions plan (or group plans) is in the ratio 55:45. Total number of Ulips have fallen by 10% during August this financial year, when compared to the level of August 2010. Again, our traditional products have gone up by 125% during the period. Our group fund alone has increased by 15% during the same period.

Do you think the highest NAV products launched by insurance companies are misleading and Irda should take some action?

We do have highest NAV product, named as Smart Performer and it is doing well. The regulator is worried about administrative issue related to the product and how to make the disclosures to the customers about such products so that they get a fair deal. Life Insurance Council is working on it.

Has your investment portfolio fallen? Do you think that investment income will fall this year?

Nearly 55% corpus of our total assets under management (AUM) has been invested in equities. In majority of funds, our fund performance has been well so far. In most of the funds, we are in the top performer. In case the same market condition continues, we would invest R6,000-7,000 crore additionally in equities during the remaining part of this financial year. The balance amount would be invested in either G-sec or corporate bonds. There is a shift from Ulips to traditional products happening now. I think, it will stabilise after a year from now.

Do you have any capital infusion plans?

We had our last capital infusion to the tune of R500 crore in SBI Life in 2007-08. It was jointly done by the promoters like SBI and BNP. After that, there has been no requirement of capital infusion because of profitability. We first broke even in 2005-06. Except for a marginal loss, which was incurred by us in 2008-09 thanks to the market crash, we have continued to make profits constantly since then.

With SBI as the parent body, it was expected that SBI Life would emerge as a leader in the life insurance industry soon?

We started our operation some 10 years ago. We are the life insurer with the lowest operating ratio. Also, we are the largest player in the private sector in terms of total business premium as on July-end. The strength of SBI Life is primarily due to the support provided by the SBI. Most of the SBI branches are selling our products through bancassurance channel. On the selling of products of more than one insurers (which is permitted now) by the banks, a report has been submitted before Irda. We are in favour of selling two products each from life insurance and non-life insurance companies. We believe that sale of insurance product is a long term relationship with any bank. There should be close coordination between bank and insurance companies, not only for the sale of their products, but also for servicing of product and grievance redressal so that customers of the bank should have a choice.


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