Sucheta Dalal :Insurers say ULIPs shouldn’t be ba<x>sed on a fee-ba<x>sed model
Sucheta Dalal

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Insurers say ULIPs shouldn’t be based on a fee-based model  

May 7, 2010

For a long time now, many have commented and expressed their views that insurance agencies’ big ticket success, unit-linked insurance plans (ULIPs) should be a fee-based model and not a commissioned based model. However, insurers disagree with the view, reasoning that intermediaries play a vital role in selling ULIPs—most of them are sold through relationship models and there would hardly be any change in the cost for the consumer to pay.

“How would the fees be decided? For that matter, how would an employee or agent be motivated to bring in more renewals? It is definitely not feasible,” a top official from Bajaj Allianz said. Most ULIP products are sold in rural and semi-urban areas.

Rajesh Sud, managing director and chief executive officer, Max New York Life Insurance, said that intermediaries play an important role in the selling of ULIPs to potential consumers. A fee-based model would not be fair to an agent, he added.

“Not many understand the risk we live under—either dying too early or living too long, somebody has to help you understand that risk and appropriately help you understand the product,” Mr Sud said.

Life Insurance Council’s secretary general, S B Mathur said a fee-based model wouldn’t work as nearly 80% of ULIPs are sold in rural and semi-urban parts of India and most of these sales are based on mutual relations. “Most of these sales are relationship-based, where it is very awkward for an agent to charge his client for doing his work,” he said.

The argument lies that ULIPs overcharge consumers, through the commission-based model. As per the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) rules, agents are entitled to get a commission of up to 40% of the premium in the first year, as compared to mutual funds or pension funds.

Regardless of whether the charges are levied on a fee-based model or commission model, the policyholder’s charges would inevitably not be affected, in fact, he might pay a higher amount, Mr Mathur said.

Unlike mutual funds and pension funds, which are no-load products, ULIPs continue to charge high commissions. In August last year, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) had removed loads on mutual funds.

Commenting on mutual funds, Mr Mathur said that mutual funds are not yet a retail-based industry, with 80% of funds still being corporate funds. He also said that their level of operations were only limited to metros and urban areas. “So why extend it to an (insurance) industry, which over a 10-year period has created a huge distribution network and where the sale of insurance is predominantly in rural areas,” he asked.

A fee-based model is considered a fair deal for consumers as it enables them to directly evaluate the service an intermediary gives them and it also compensates intermediaries. It gives the consumer the opportunity to negotiate the fees to be paid to agents instead of the charge being embedded in the premium.

In the past, there were reports circulating that consumers who had invested in ULIPs would be free from this commission from April 2011. However, the insurance regulator has decided to maintain the status quo. —  Aaron Rodrigues

-- Sucheta Dalal