IPO for Indian Life Insurers

In October 2010, the capital market regulator, Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), approved life insurance companies to issue IPOs. India’s insurance regulator, Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA), has been planning to come up with guidelines for IPOs of life insurance companies for quite some time; an announcement is expected within the next few months. Current regulations allow only those insurers that have been in business for at least 10 years to go for an IPO. The government is likely to bring this down to five years; however, a final call is yet to be taken. Another such pending proposal is raising the limit of foreign ownership in a joint venture life insurer to 49% (currently capped at 25%). After an IPO, foreign promoters will have to bring down their stake to ensure Indian promoters hold a majority. An insurer opting for a public offering must also offer at least 25% of the shares to the public. Like any other IPO, pricing of an insurance IPO is an area of concern. This is more so for two reasons. First, insurance is a key sector of the economy with a large number of stakeholders; this sector is being allowed to participate in fund-raising from the capital market for the first time. Therefore, overly optimistic valuation may be detrimental to the sector in the long run. Second, in light of the recent events in Japan, it has become critical that all relevant factors affecting the insurance industry are priced in appropriately. The IRDA is likely to spell out appropriate guidelines regarding valuation accordingly. Insurance IPOs are expected to gain traction in the medium to longer term; however, this will also depend on the evolution of the markets and regulatory landscape. The Indian capital market seems to have hit a roadblock in recent months due to high inflation threatening growth prospects. The insurance sector in particular has been adversely affected. New policy sales by private firms took a hit in 2010, and margins are also under pressure. The Direct Tax Code (DTC), scheduled to implementation in 2012, is another cause for concern. This may remove some tax advantages for certain insurance products and raise the tax burden on insurance companies, which is likely to have an adverse impact on sales and profits. Several private sector insurers, including the likes of ICICI Prudential Life, Reliance Life Insurance, SBI Life Insurance, and HDFC Standard Life, are planning to tap the capital market. However, their expected times of offering may differ. While some may go for IPOs in the very near term, others may wait for some time. For example, Reliance, which has been supporting the reduction of the 10-year operations rule to five years, can be expected to raise money from the public in the short term. On the other hand, SBI Life is not in a hurry and wants to wait and watch as the regulations evolve. So even if IPOs do not pick up in the near term, they are likely to become popular in the medium to longer term.
About Arin Ray

Arin Ray is an analyst with Celent's Securities & Investments practice and is based in the firm's New York office. Arin's expertise lies in capital markets where he has extensive research experience in exchange trading, clearing and settlement, brokerages, and use of technology in capital markets. In his recent consulting work, he has advised a large European financial services provider to devise their post trade (settlement) strategy, a tier 1 Japanese brokerage in their product and technology strategy, and a leading international exchange in their market entry and growth strategy in Asian markets. He has published research reports on exchange and over the counter trading, exchange strategies, and adoption of trading technology in different sub-segments of capital markets.

Arin has been quoted regularly in the media, including Reuters, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Dow Jones, Press Trust of India, Economic Times, Financial Express, Finance Asia, Global Investor Magazine, BusinessWeek, Business Standard, Asian Investor, Pension & Investment, Business Week, and Securities Industry News. In addition, he regularly contributes bylined articles for the financial media; his articles have appeared in The Journal of Trading, Advanced Trading, Free Press Journal, FT Asian Investment, gtnews, and Ignites Asia among others.

Arin received his MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore and B.E. in Electronics and Telecommunication Engineering from Jadavpur University. He is fluent in English, Hindi and Bengali.

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