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Published on: May 2, 2022, 5:46 p.m.
Once in a lifetime
  • LIC has been providing life insurance in India for more than 65 years and is the largest life insurer in India

By Lancelot Joseph. Executive Editor, Business India

“It’s far better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price.” 

– Warren Buffet

Many consider playing in the stock market a gamble. Listing in the market is a much larger, calculated game. The hits and flops of some of the recent listings clearly show that no one guesses how the markets pan out. 

Cynics always point out the listing shows of HAL and Paytm that have won a Thumbs Down to prove their point while some analysts might dismiss these ‘aberrations’ as something to do with bad timing. 

Ever since Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced her plans to take LIC public in her budget speech of February 2020, market watchers have been watching the geo-political events unfolding. She said the listing would not only help in “disciplining the company” and unlock the behemoth’s real value, but: “It also gives an opportunity to retail investors to take part in the wealth so created.” 

Then came the pandemic-triggered lockdown that shattered all business plans. The government’s priorities had to change. Wealth creation had to be abandoned to make room for health care. Sitharaman repeated her declaration on 1 February, 2021 saying the government was committed to pursue its divestment plans. Ditto on 1 February, 2022. Recovery from Covid was topsy-turvy. 

Irrespective of the FM’s plans, market observers were not sure of the plans materialising in view of the double whammy from the Russian attack of the Ukraine – and there are no signs of a ceasefire. Moreover, a ceasefire would not guarantee quick economic recovery. The IMF treads a cautious path, downsizing global economic growth to 3.6 per cent in both 2022 and 2023, from 6.1 per cent in 2021. FIs pulling out money from Indian stock markets was not a good omen for any IPO and the LIC public offering was pushed to the back burner.

In March alone, post the Ukraine crisis, FIIs pulled out a massive Rs41,000 crore from the Indian markets and their return was speculative with the US Fed interest hikes. This prompted FM Nirmala to play a praising tune to domestic investors for staying in the market and act as the much-needed shock absorber. With Sitharaman indicating that the LIC divestment would have to be recalibrated in view of the new geo-political dynamics, speculation was rife that there is no assurance of the LIC IPO.

Finally, the government decided to bite the bullet. When the merchant bankers were picked up last September, expectations were that the IPO size would be a whopping Rs1 lakh crore and that kickstarted the valuation game. “The speculations were in the media; the government was not party to this valuation talk,” says Tuhin Kanta Pandey, Secretary of Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (DIPAM). The valuations changed with the IPO target fluctuating to Rs60,000 crore. Finally, the government seems to have discovered the right points – Rs6 lakh crore valuation, 3.5 per cent dilution and an IPO target of Rs21,000 crore. 

Pandey admits that the government is doing the unthinkable with this IPO which is the largest even after the downsize. But he says it is right-sized considering the capital market environment. The idea is not to crowd out capital and monetary supply, he explains. Even at this target, LIC’s is the largest IPO. Will Nirmala Sitharaman’s big gamble pay off?

  • Sitharaman: will her big gamble pay off?

Boosting investor morale

We will know shortly. She was recently in Mumbai and the US – though for different reasons – but obviously, with the ultimate goal of boosting investor morale. The government has fixed the price band at Rs902 to Rs949 apiece while floating 221,374,920 equity shares. “India is the only country to come out with an IPO of this size at this time,” says Sanjoy Chatterjee, Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs (India) Securities Private Limited, one of the book running lead managers to the issue. The issue has already created positive vibes in the market with the listed players’ price going up from 3 to 4 per cent. The Q4 performance has also contributed to this trend.

The buzz does not stop there. “Over 6.48 crore LIC policyholders have shown interest to invest by linking their PAN with the policy by the cut-off date of 28 February this year,” says a Director in DIPAM. “When you buy an LIC share you don’t just buy into the company’s equity but buy a pie of the share market,” says Mangalam Ramasubramanian Kumar, Chairman of LIC. “Now that we are going to be listed, a whole new change is going to come for the organisation,” adds Kumar.

“The insurer will be required to conform to SEBI’s LODR requirements and other listing norms. LIC has been fast to adapt to previous challenges such as the opening of the insurance sector in 2000 and there is no reason why it cannot do that in the future as well,” he says and describes the IPO chapter as LIC 3.0. “We welcome LIC 3.0 and know what we have to do,” Kumar says, exuding confidence.

LIC has been providing life insurance in India for more than 65 years and is the largest life insurer in India, with a 61.6 per cent market share in terms of Gross Written Premiums (GWP), a 61.4 per cent market share in terms of New Business Premium (NBP), a 71.8 per cent market share in terms of the number of individual policies issued, a 88.8 per cent market share in terms of the number of group policies issued for the nine months ended 31 December, 2021, as well as by the number of individual agents, which comprised 55 per cent of all individual agents in India as on 31 December, 2021. 

 Strength of the brand

A whopping 245 private life insurance companies in India had been nationalised and merged to form LIC on 1 September, 1956, with an initial capital of Rs5 crore. Until 2000, it enjoyed total monopoly, with LIC becoming synonymous with insurance. The IRDAI identified it as a Domestic Systemically Important Insurer (D-SII) on the basis of size, market importance and domestic and global interconnectedness in September 2020.

“Brand LIC, was recognised as the third strongest and 10th most valuable global insurance brand as per the Insurance 100 2021 report released by Brand Finance,” says Kumar adding that, “the strength of a brand means the efficacy of a brand’s performance on intangible measures relative to its competitors and is determined by looking at the brand’s marketing investment, stakeholder equity and impact of those on business performance”. 

Brand LIC also commands trust, which is evident in the 27.9 crore policies in force under individual business. Moreover, about 75 per cent of individual policies sold by the Corporation during the nine months ended 31 December, 2021 were to be sold to customers who had not purchased any life insurance policies from LIC prior to 1 April, 2021.

  • Kumar: a whole new change is going to come; Photo: Sanjay Borade

LIC’s individual policies are primarily distributed by individual agents. In Fiscal 2019, Fiscal 2020, Fiscal 2021 and the nine months ended 31 December, 2021, individual agents were responsible for sourcing 96.69 per cent, 95.73 per cent, 94.78 per cent and 96.20 per cent of the new business premiums of NBP for the individual products. It has the largest agent network among the country’s life insurance entities, accounting for 55 per cent of the total agent network which is 6.8 times the number of individual agents of the second largest life insurer in terms of agent network, as per a CRISIL report.

For the nine months ended 31 December, 2021 and Fiscal 2021, LIC also had the most productive agent network averaging an NBP of Rs260,069 and Rs412,934 per agent, respectively, compared to the average NBP of Rs108,888 and Rs124,892 per agent for the median of the top five private players, respectively. 

“During the same period, LIC agents sold 9 and 15.3 individual policies per agent on an average, respectively, which was the most in India, compared with the median of the top five private players’ agents selling 1.1 and 1.6 individual policies per agent, respectively,” the CRISIL report says. LIC has the highest Million Dollar Round Table (MDRT) members among all the Indian corporates operating in the financial services industry, with a total of 721 MDRT members for 2021.

The company had a high longevity of agents – 59.38 per cent of the agents have acted for LIC for more than five years as on 31 December, 2021. “The younger generation is also getting attracted to LIC and 81 per cent of our Corporation’s agents in India recruited in Fiscal 2021 were within the age bracket of 18 to 40 years,” Kumar says and remarks that “LIC today is the pride of India”. 

The corporation’s omni-channel distribution platform for individual products currently comprises individual agents, bancassurance partners, alternate channels (corporate agents, brokers and insurance marketing firms), digital sales (the company website), micro insurance agents and point of sales persons – life insurance scheme. 

The company’s individual NBP generated through bancassurance in Fiscal 2021 was higher than the individual bancassurance NBP of 16 private life insurance players and the individual NBP of 14 private life insurance players. In the nine months ended 31 December, 2021, LIC’s individual NBP generated through bancassurance was higher than the individual bancassurance NBP of 12 private life insurers and the individual NBP of 11 private life insurance players, the CRISIL report shows. As on 30 September, 2021, 

LIC’s bancassurance partners had a total of 51,633 branches in India as compared to the 38,026 branches of the bancassurance partners of the largest private player.

Records do not stop here with the insurance business. LIC is the largest asset manager in India as on 31 December, 2021, with AUM comprising policyholders’ shareholders’ investments and assets held to cover linked liabilities of Rs40 lakh crore on a standalone basis. This amount was more than 3.2 times the total AUM of all private life insurers in India, approximately 15.6 times more than the AUM of the second-largest player in the Indian life insurance industry, more than 1.1 times the entire Indian mutual fund industry’s AUM and 17 per cent of India’s estimated GDP for Fiscal 2022, as the CRISIL study shows.

As per the CRISIL report, as on 31 December, 2021, LIC’s investments in listed equity represented around 4 per cent of the total market capitalisation of NSE. Over 90 per cent of LIC’s policyholders’ equity investments on a standalone basis are held in stocks that are a part of the Nifty 200 and BSE 200 indices as on 31 December, 2021.

Post listing, he says, LIC will have to bring about several other changes in order to keep pace with the requirements of a responsible, large, listed corporation. “This is, after all, a journey,” he says. This is part of the government’s commitment to wider ownership of the public sector organisation to allow people to join this new wealth creation drive. LIC has already informed SEBI that it does not intend any follow-on public offering for a year. 

  • S Ramesh (MD & CEO, Kotak Mahindra Capital Company Ltd), Amit Agrawal (ADDLLL Secretary DFS), M.R. Kumar (Chairperson, LIC), Tuhin Kanta Pandey (Secretary DIPAM), Dr. Alok Pande (Joint secretary DIPAM), Sanjoy Chatterjee (Chairman & CEO Goldman Sachs

A good opportunity

Sanjay Malhotra, Secretary – Department of Financial Services (DFS) says: “The IPO provides a good opportunity for both retail and institutional investors. The discussions at LIC road shows have been focused on valuation.” And Malhotra adds that some media are comparing valuation with other private sector peers in terms of Embedded Value (EV). “That may not be right given the difference in sizes of LIC and its peers. LIC has been a large organisation and has been doing business for a long time. As a multiple, you can look at differences between them but certainly not EV to market cap comparisons.”

Meanwhile, The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) has raised the investment ceiling for insurance companies in the BFSI sector to 30 per cent from 25 per cent of their investment corpus. This is bound to prompt them to invest in LIC and up their investment considerably.

The IPO is also witnessing a dramatic surge in demat accounts. Paytm Money CEO Varun Sridhar says: “May will be a record month for demat account openings in recent times. It is a milestone event for Indian capital markets and is expected to bring millions of new investors.”

Rural-focused fintech Spice Money, has partnered with Religare Broking Ltd (RBL) to enable rural citizens to apply for the mega LIC IPO. “This association will allow over 95 per cent of rural pin codes to get access to assisted phygital platforms to invest in capital market-linked opportunities such as equities, mutual funds, commodity, currency and NPS to build wealth for the future,” says Spice Money.

Given the under penetration of life insurance in India, there is more than enough scope for the business to grow. CRISIL says that the GWP for life insurers in India is forecast to grow at 14-15 per cent CAGR from Fiscal 2021 to Fiscal 2026, to reach Rs12,400 billion. At this level of premium, life insurance as a proportion of GDP is projected to reach 3.8 per cent by Fiscal 2026, up from 3.2 per cent in Fiscal 2021.

The NBP of the Indian life insurance industry is expected to grow at a CAGR of approximately 18 per cent from Fiscal 2021 to Fiscal 2026 for individual business as compared to a CAGR of 17 per cent for group business over the same period. 

Further, in the long term, life insurance NBP is expected to grow at a CAGR of 14-16 per cent between Fiscal 2021 to Fiscal 2032. With the kind of scale, size, reach and scalability LIC has achieved over the years, it is well-positioned to capitalise on growth prospects. The offer document says the Corporation’s focus will be on  increasing its market share of the bancassurance channel by tying up with more bank partners, increasing direct sales of the individual products, improving the share of non-participating products by increasing the focus on sales of ULIP, protection products, pension/annuity products and health insurance, recruiting more millennial agents in light of the changing demographic dynamics, increasing upselling and cross-selling to individual customers and beneficiaries of group products to cover their varied financial needs, stepping up the average ticket size of  its products, increasing the productivity of its intermediaries by furthering competency-building initiatives, and increasing its focus on group protection plans.

  • Brand LIC also commands trust, which is evident in the 27.9 crore policies in force under individual business

There is already a significant demand for annuity/pension products in India, with 82.7 per cent of the country’s employed population working in the unorganised sector. CRISIL Research forecasts that the elderly population (aged 60 and above) in India will increase from 116.8 million in 2015 to 316.8 million by 2050 and the share of the elderly in India’s population will almost double from 9 per cent in 2015 to 17 per cent by 2050, which will result in an increase in demand for pension/annuity products. 

LIC plans to strategically expand its individual agency network, improve agents’ productivity and maintain focus on improving the quality of the agents they recruit and their longevity. It will continue to hire millennial and post-millennial agents by running social and digital media campaigns as well as other advertising campaigns to increase awareness of career opportunities as an insurance agent in the millennial and post-millennial segments, and conducting more online recruitment. 

LIC Managing Director Siddhartha Mohanty says: “Even after the IPO, the government’s sovereign cover will continue under Section 37 of the LIC Act. The government shareholding in LIC will not fall below 51 per cent.”

The valuation

The government has fixed the price band of Rs902 to Rs949 per equity share for the IPO that will be open between 4-9 May. The government has announced a discount of R60 per equity share for registered policy holders and R45 for employees. Kotak Mahindra Capital Company Limited, Axis Capital Limited, BofA Securities India Limited, Citigroup Global Markets India Private Limited, JM Financial Limited, JP Morgan India Private Limited, Goldman Sachs (India) Securities Private Limited, ICICI Securities Limited, Nomura Financial Advisory, Securities (India) Private Limited and SBI Capital Markets Limited are the book running lead managers to the issue.

Talking about the valuations, Reliance Securities in its report states that “despite LIC writing millions of insurance policies, the insurance premium-to-GDP ratio in India is at 3.7 per cent, well below the global average of 7.2 per cent”. The IPO is valued at a Price/Embedded Value of 1.1x on the higher band on its 2QFY22 EV, which is at a significant discount compared to the P/EV for listed private life insurance companies. HDFC Life Insurance is trading at a P/EV of 4.1x, SBI Life at 2.9x, and ICICI Pru Life at 2.2x.

LIC has a diverse portfolio of insurance and investment products to cater to the needs of individuals. The company is well-placed owing to its omni-channel distribution network comprising of 1.33 million agents, several partners and alternate channels, its trusted ‘LIC’ brand value, and 65 years of lineage. “Moreover, LIC is backed by its strong financial track record and experienced management team. In view of the giant market share, largest assets under management, strong brand, diverse portfolio of products, and valuation comfort, we recommend subscribe to the issue”, adds the Reliance report.

Sharekhan in its report, says: “LIC had the highest gap in market share by life insurance GWP relative to the second largest life insurer in India as compared to the market leaders in the top seven markets globally (in 2020 for the other players and in Fiscal 2021 for the LIC)”.

  • Even after the IPO, the government’s sovereign cover will continue under Section 37 of the LIC Act. The government shareholding in LIC will not fall below 51 per cent

According to Pratik Prajapati of Anand Rathi, based on life insurance premiums, India is the tenth largest life insurance market in the world and the fifth largest in Asia. The size of the Indian life insurance industry was Rs6.2 lakh crore based on total premium in Fiscal 2021, up from Rs5.7 lakh crore in Fiscal 2020. The industry’s total premium bas grown at 11 per cent CAGR in the last five years ending in Fiscal 2021.

“LIC is the trusted brand and a customer-centric business model. It’s a largest player in the fast growing and underpenetrated Indian life insurance sector. Cross-cyclical product mix that caters to diverse consumer needs and an individual product portfolio that is dominated by participating life insurance policies. LIC is present across India through an omni-channel distribution network with an unparalleled agency force. LIC has highest RoNW amongst other listed players in India in the same industry. At the upper price levels, the LIC has valued the IPO at 1.11 times its embedded value with a marketcap of Rs6,002 billion which we believe is quite lower when we compared with the three listed peer like HDFC Life Insurance Co, SBI Life Insurance Co. and ICICI Prudential Life Insurance Co. where the average embedded values stood at Rs3,105 billion and the average market capitalization-to- embedded value ratio arrived at 3.4 times. Hence, the issue looks quite attractive for investors. Considering the largest size of the IPO company’s well diversified product portfolio, and financial track records and bright prospects ahead, we recommend a “Subscribe” rating to this IPO”.

With the buzz over the post issue implied market cap of Rs570,515-Rs600,242 crore LIC scrip is bound to make its way to the BSE Sensex and Nifty and become a game changer. LIC has been a major investor so far and, in a role reversal, it is now seeking investor participation. “This two-way dialogue will be very beneficial for LIC,” concludes Pandey.

  • Kumar: we hope to deliver excellent results to our policyholders, our customers who have been with all this while, and also to our shareholders; Photo: Sanjay Borade

    Kumar: we hope to deliver excellent results to our policyholders, our customers who have been with all this while, and also to our shareholders; Photo: Sanjay Borade

LIC 3.0 – exciting journey ahead

Chairman Mangalam Ramasubramanian Kumar, who joined LIC in 1983 as an apprentice, has been witness to the massive transformation of the business. Here, Kumar talks about some tricky issues

On LIC losing business

I think we have been extremely competitive in all areas of operations and post-liberalisation; we have sustained our market leadership with 66 per cent. There are people saying that we’ve been losing market share, but we remind our friends here and everyone that the last decade from 2011 to 2021, we have lost only 3 per cent that too from 69 to 66, that could be intermittent, you know, ups and downs. But over a period of time, we have been quite solid in terms of the market share. Our strategic roadmap is built on current strengths while developing new capabilities to accelerate growth and sustain future value. We are cross-cyclic and have a comprehensive product portfolio. 

 On bancassurance

If you look at channels per se, where the private sector has been doing more on bancassurance you rightly said this is mostly owned by banks. So, we were very strong on the agency channel. We continue to be very strong on that. This is a channel which is very difficult to replicate. It’s not easy. Whereas on the bancassurance side, we have been making progress over a period of time, in terms of a generation of volumes of business, you will find on premiums. We could be third or fourth in terms of volumes, but in terms of percentage, it would appear to be low because the base of agencies is pretty high. But then if you look at the number of branches of banks we are tied up with, we have the highest coverage in almost 58,000 bank branches and that is higher than any other private insurance company in the country. 

Life after IPO

When the life insurance business was nationalised in 1956, that was LIC 1.0 and when the market opened up and we were subject to competition and we did well in even the competitive market that was LIC 2.0. And we are now going to be LIC 3.0, a listed organisation, a huge life insurance company. 3.0 will mean that we will be having another family of, you know, shareholders with us. We need to get to their needs. We need to be agile and nimble. And we are working on many things, possibly simultaneously, to make that happen. And, therefore, going forward, it’s going to be an exciting story for LIC. All of us at LIC are really excited about this change that is happening, and we hope to deliver excellent results to our policyholders, our customers who have been with all this while, and also to our shareholders

On safeguarding minority shareholders

There are systems in place. There are laws in place. There are guidelines in place, SEBI guidelines in place. We have to take care of the minority shareholder. As you know, LIC has a presence in so many equities, in companies; it has nominee directors in many of these companies. We know what is minority shareholding. We have been supporting minority shareholding I don’t have to tell you what you know. We have been doing that. And therefore, when it comes to our own shareholders, don’t you think we’ll be far ahead of what others are doing?

  • None

Covid booster for tech adoption

The pandemic has presented opportunities for distribution through web aggregators in the insurance space. In addition to the standard price comparison of insurers, the aggregators also offer personal finance advice and education to customers, enabling more complex products to also be sold through these channels. Web aggregators have also helped companies reach out to younger customers who tend to prefer digital platforms and the questionnaire style of underwriting.

Covid-19 has been a catalyst of change in the underwriting environment and the industry has accelerated efforts to move towards more efficient and frictionless practices. Insurers have started offering virtual examinations where a specialist could ask questions and take measurements via telephone or video conference, thereby eliminating the need for in-person medical examination. Artificial intelligence techniques such as text mining, natural language processing and artificial neural networks are increasingly being used to make underwriting more streamlined. These techniques help increase the speed and accuracy with which applications can be reviewed and processed. Apart from underwriting, players in the industry have also started to use technology across the value chain for faster claim processing and fraud management.

Moving towards paperless KYC, the IRDAI has allowed insurance companies to avail of Aadhaar Authentication services, As a result, KYC is done digitally which requires the user to provide an OTP sent to their Aadhaar registered mobile number. The regulator has also allowed insurers to obtain customers’ consent through an OTP using the registered e-mail ID or mobile number of the customer without having to rely on a physical signature. 

In 2016, IRDAI mandated that if policies are solicited through electronic mode, insurers were required to send the policy electronically and also dispatch a hardcopy. Exemption for a physical copy was provided only where the policy was issued using an e-insurance account (eIA). Since insurers were unable to send the policy contracts on time due to the pandemic, IRDAI has allowed insurers to send all life and health insurance policies electronically to the policyholder’s e-mail ID. The free-look period can be started only after the receipt of policy contracts but insurers must confirm the date of receipt of the e-policy through a call or other means and preserve the proof so that the free-look period can be calculated from that date.

The Covid-19 pandemic has created increased awareness of the need to be properly insured, particularly for term insurance and health insurance. CRISIL Research expects the number of lives covered in India to increase in both individual and group business due to increasing awareness, expanding distribution channels and enhanced product offerings. The number of lives covered are projected to increase from 208 million in Fiscal 2021 to approximately 285 million in Fiscal 2026, accounting for approximately 28 per cent of the total adult population. 

The LIC offer document says the company plans to continue to implement various technological and digital initiatives to increase productivity, train agents and employees, improve cost efficiencies, provide better customer experience, provide a seamless customer on-boarding process and enhance its digital channels for payments. “Our commitment is to harness technological and digital capabilities for customer convenience. We plan to make greater use of analytics to further drive productivity of our agency channel, deliver enhanced service levels, support customer connection with services and drive operating efficiencies,” the company adds. 

LIC was among the first to introduce a mainframe computer in the 1960s and its key technology-related initiatives include: implementing a new unique customer identification and deduplication system, which will allow for more efficient cross-selling of products; simplifying the customer experience; allowing for customisation of services; increasing the efficiency of claims management as well as providing for better customer profiling and retention. Apart from increasing the online recruitment of agents and even online training of agents, it will give a big push to digital marketing.

LIC plans to continue to promote the use of digital modes of payment to increase the share of premiums collected through digital modes. For Fiscal 2019, Fiscal 2020, Fiscal 2021 and the nine months ended 31 December, 2021, the Corporation collected Rs3,1721.3 crore, Rs41,741.3 crore, Rs69,179.4 crore and Rs54,790.6 crore of individual renewal premiums via digital modes of payment, respectively, which represented 17.24 per cent, 22.20 per cent, 32.11 per cent and 36.44 per cent of individual renewal premiums in India, respectively. 

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