The Ayes have it
India International Insurance celebrates 25 years of underwriting and maintaining a superb claims record
Writer Emily Jarvis
Project manager Sheridan Halls
India International Insurance, or III was incorporated in Singapore in November 1987, by amalgamating the four Indian state run Non-Life Insurance companies, which were operating independently in Singapore for decades. In his in-depth interview with us, CE and MD of III, Mr Ravindra Kumar stated that "this was certainly a more sound and viable option to pool resources to create a robust unit with a strong market presence." III is now owned by the five Indian Government-run General Insurance companies, namely GIC Re, New India Assurance, National Insurance, Oriental Insurance and United India Insurance, and continues to grow from strength to strength.
A quarter of a century later, the company is exploring new avenues to cater to the ever-changing Insurance market environment. Kumar states that they are "evolving to stay ahead of the competition."
Kumar emphasises that "our main financial strength is that we have been rated by Standards & Poor as A-with a stable outlook. For the past few years, this achievement has provided us with the much needed market edge over our competitors." III has a very strong Capital Adequacy Ratio (CAR) of 300, which is much higher than the regulatory requirement. Today, III's total assets are valued at S$700 million, with a shareholder's fund of over S$300 million and investible funds of about S$650 million.
A History of Success
Over the last few years, III have seen a positive growth pattern. The Gross Written Premium (GWP) for 2011 was S$ 183 million rising to S$ 195 million in 2012, posting an overall profit of S$ 29 million, S$ 17million respectively. Kumar is positive about the results for 2013: "We hope to continue the trend and post a net profit of around S$25 million for 2014."
In 2013, the company made a conscious decision to consolidate its position by pruning business which did not meet with its underwriting criteria. "We are keen on consolidating our position in the market without losing our focus on the bottom line. Rather than going for blind growth, we made this strategic decision which I am sure will reap rich dividends in the coming years."
III can attribute its success to:
● The experienced, qualified and dedicated work force.
● The company's good risk retention capacity, being able to underwrite a wide spectrum of risks.
● Ability to take decisions in underwriting and claims matters locally thereby saving on time.
● Its philosophy in maintaining a strong and continuous relationship and providing high standards of service to all its business partners and customers.
Tackling the Competition
One of the major issues facing any insurance company in the Singapore market is intense competition as Kumar cites: "Overall, the market is relatively small, the rates being very soft and with adequate capacity available, resulting in serious competition." Due to limited growth in this market, the Singapore insurance Fund (SIF) business is quite challenging. III has seen rapid developments in terms of technology, which is now a crucial part of any insurance business. "We are striving to issue selective online policies to support our business development. This means customers will soon be able to download policies straight away." it is a constantly evolving and ongoing process and iii are doing everything possible to keep up with the challenges in the market.
In a highly competitive market, it is crucial for iii to forge a close relationship with its business partners to deliver comprehensive products which are competitively priced. Needless to say, handling claims fairly and promptly gives an added edge.
Mr. Kumar reiterates: "In such a fiercely competitive market, it is your ability to reinvent yourself and think outside the box that sets you apart. Being quick to monitor market trends and developments to meet the needs of the consumer and adapt your products to the changing needs is one of the mantras of survival."
Consolidating the Gains of 2012 and Beyond
For the completed year 2012, for which last final audited statistics are available, iii was the seventh largest Non-life insurer in Singapore. Kumar states: "we have been targeting only those businesses which meet with our underwriting criteria and we have achieved fairly good results. Moving forward, I want to continue this trend to ensure that the bottom line is not compromised on and the top line is gradually increased by writing more quality business."
Kumar spoke about the future market opportunities for iii as he considers the overseas insurance business as a growing market with great potential. "Currently, we write Property and casualty business overseas primarily from the ASEAN region. We are of course among the top marine Hull underwriters in Singapore with more than 40 per cent of our gross written Premium coming from this segment. Myanmar and Indonesia and a few others are probably the new markets to watch out for."
2014: a Year of Strengthening the Business
For the current year, III has set itself a target of s$203 million GWP as Kumar affirmed: "We plan to broaden our distribution network and focus on small and medium Enterprises (SME) and retail personal lines such as travel, home, private car and personal accident insurance. the overseas insurance business will probably see only a marginal increase as this market carries a potentially higher risk."
In Marine Hull, III has created a niche market for itself in Singapore and is charting a path of steady growth by increasing their lines on lucrative accounts and breaking into new and profitable markets wherever possible. "As I mentioned earlier, there are quite a few emerging markets in Asia which present endless opportunities to expand into."
A key aspect for the company's success is the standard of services provided. Improving turnaround times for underwriting quotes and faster claims settlements go a long way in strengthening our market presence."
Kumar recognises that some of their personal lines of insurance products are slightly outdated and they are working hard to change this. "We need to improve our relationship with business partners and third party service providers and have on offer more competitive policy. In short, we need to be very innovative and come out with tailored products to meet the expectations of the customer."
With plans for expansion in the pipeline, Kumar aims to strengthen his existing team by stepping up training programmes and recruiting new talent, as fresh hands mean getting new ideas to the table. "Catching and moulding youngsters early on is always an investment for the future." With this in mind, III has in the recent past been participating in the general internship Programmes (GIP), conducted by the General Insurance Association (GIA) of Singapore to train local undergraduates.
III by virtue of its S&P rating of A- with stable outlook, together with its ability to take decisions on almost all underwriting and claims matters, fairly and promptly, reflects the very ideologies on which its building blocks were laid.
In conclusion, Mr. Kumar states: "III will continue to raise its level of performance in all spheres of activity without compromising on core values and strengths. As the great Aristotle said: we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit."