What is General Insurance?
Insurance other than ‘Life Insurance’ falls under the category of General Insurance. General Insurance comprises of insurance of property against fire, burglary etc, personal insurance such as Accident and Health Insurance, and liability insurance which covers legal liabilities. There are also other covers such as Errors and Omissions insurance for professionals, credit insurance etc.
Non-life insurance companies have products that cover property against Fire and allied perils, flood storm and inundation, earthquake and so on. There are products that cover property against burglary, theft etc. The non-life companies also offer policies covering machinery against breakdown,there are policies that cover the hull of ships and so on. A Marine Cargo policy covers goods in transit including by sea, air and road. Further, insurance of motor vehicles against damages and theft forms a major chunk of non-life insurance business.
In respect of insurance of property, it is important that the cover is taken for the actual value of the property to avoid being imposed a penalty should there be a claim. Where a property is undervalued for the purposes of insurance, the insured will have to bear a rateable proportion of the loss. For instance if the value of a property is Rs.100 and it is insured for Rs.50/-, in the event of a loss to the extent of say Rs.50/-, the maximum claim amount payable would be Rs.25/- ( 50% of the loss being borne by the insured for underinsuring the property by 50% ). This concept is quite often not understood by most insureds.
Personal insurance covers include policies for Accident, Health etc. Products offering Personal Accident cover are benefit policies. Health insurance covers offered by non-life insurers are mainly hospitalization covers either on reimbursement or cashless basis. The cashless service is offered through Third Party Administrators who have arrangements with various service providers, i.e., hospitals. The Third Party Administrators also provide service for reimbursement claims. Sometimes the insurers themselves process reimbursement claims.
Accident and health insurance policies are available for individuals as well as groups. A group could be a group of employees of an organization or holders of credit cards or deposit holders in a bank etc. Normally when a group is covered, insurers offer group discounts.
Liability insurance covers such as Motor Third Party Liability Insurance, Workmen’s Compensation Policy etc offer cover against legal liabilities that may arise under the respective statutes— Motor Vehicles Act, The Workmen’s Compensation Act etc. Some of the covers such as the foregoing (Motor Third Party and Workmen’s Compensation policy ) are compulsory by statute. Liability Insurance not compulsory by statute is also gaining popularity these days. Many industries insure against Public liability. There are liability covers available for Products as well.
There are general insurance products that are in the nature of package policies offering a combination of the covers mentioned above. For instance, there are package policies available for householders, shop keepers and also for professionals such as doctors, chartered accountants etc. Apart from offering standard covers, insurers also offer customized or tailor-made ones.
Suitable general Insurance covers are necessary for every family. It is important to protect one’s property, which one might have acquired from one’s hard earned income. A loss or damage to one’s property can leave one shattered. Losses created by catastrophes such as the tsunami, earthquakes, cyclones etc have left many homeless and penniless. Such losses can be devastating but insurance could help mitigate them. Property can be covered, so also the people against Personal Accident. A Health Insurance policy can provide financial relief to a person undergoing medical treatment whether due to a disease or an injury.
Industries also need to protect themselves by obtaining insurance covers to protect their building, machinery, stocks etc. They need to cover their liabilities as well. Financiers insist on insurance. So, most industries or businesses that are financed by banks and other institutions do obtain covers. But are they obtaining the right covers? And are they insuring adequately are questions that need to be given some thought. Also organizations or industries that are self-financed should ensure that they are protected by insurance.
Most general insurance covers are annual contracts. However, there are few products that are long-term.
It is important for proposers to read and understand the terms and conditions of a policy before they enter into an insurance contract. The proposal form needs to be filled in completely and correctly by a proposer to ensure that the cover is adequate and the right one.
History of General Insurance in India
General insurance in India began during the Industrial Revolution in the West and the growth of sea-faring commerce during the 17th century. It arrived as a legacy of British occupation, with its roots in the 1850 establishment of the Triton Insurance Company in Calcutta. In 1907 the Indian Mercantile Insurance was established, the first company to underwrite all classes of general insurance. In 1957 the General Insurance Council (a wing of the Insurance Association of India) was formed, framing a code of conduct for fairness and sound business practice.
Eleven years later, the Insurance Act was amended to regulate investments and set minimum solvency margins and the Tariff Advisory Committee was established. In 1972, with the passage of the General Insurance Business (Nationalisation) Act, the insurance industry was nationalized on 1 January 1973. One hundred seven insurers were amalgamated and grouped into four companies: National Insurance Company, New India Assurance Company, Oriental Insurance Company and United India Insurance Company. The General Insurance Corporation of India was incorporated in 1971, effective on 1 January 1973.
The re-opening of the insurance sector began during the early 1990s. In 1993, the government set up a committee chaired by former Reserve Bank of India governor R. N. Malhotra to propose recommendations for insurance reform complementing those initiated in the financial sector. The committee submitted its report in 1994, recommending that the private sector be permitted to enter the insurance industry. Foreign companies should enter by floating Indian companies, preferably as joint ventures with Indian partners.
Following the recommendations of the Malhotra Committee, in 1999 the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) was constituted to regulate and develop the insurance industry and was incorporated in April 2000. Objectives of the IRDA include promoting competition to enhance customer satisfaction with increased consumer choice and lower premiums while ensuring the financial security of the insurance market.
The IRDA opened up the market in August 2000 with an invitation for registration applications; foreign companies were allowed ownership up to 26 percent. The authority, with the power to frame regulations under Section 114A of the Insurance Act, 1938, has framed regulations ranging from company registrations to the protection of policyholder interests since 2000.
In December 2000, the subsidiaries of the General Insurance Corporation of India were restructured as independent companies and the GIC was converted into a national re-insurer. Parliament passed a bill de-linking the four subsidiaries from the GIC in July 2002. There are 28 general insurance companies, including the Export Credit Guarantee Corporation of India and the Agriculture Insurance Corporation of India, and 24 life-insurance companies operating in the country. With banking services, insurance services add about seven percent to India’s GDP.
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