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India May Soon Let Insurers Form Subsidiaries & JVs Overseas

Posted on Dec 16, 2011 by Sergio Ulloa ()  | Tags: Insurance Regulation, IRDA

Indian insurance regulator IRDA (Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority) is currently drafting guidelines which would allow Indian insurance and reinsurance companies to open branch offices, subsidiaries or joint-ventures overseas. IRDA is currently circulating preliminary draft guidelines on what would be required of Indian insurance companies in order to allow them to open operations overseas. As the drafts circulate among domestic insurance companies, IRDA is asking for feedback from insurance companies before the end of 2012. Many of the preliminary guidelines appear to be aimed at ensuring that domestic Indian insurance companies seeking to commence overseas operations are on solid financial footing to do so, and that doing so would not pose risks to local business and policyholders. As it stands now, domestic Indian insurance companies are not permitted to expand overseas, either through branch offices or investment in foreign firms, while foreign companies can currently own stakes in domestic insurers of up to 26 percent. The draft allows for insurance companies of any category to apply to the regulator for permission to open foreign businesses after the insurers have been in operation domestically for 10 years. The proposed regulation would allow domestic insurers to start a foreign operation in a number of ways, either by opening branch offices, the formation of foreign subsidiaries by controlling the board or owning 50 percent of the paid-up equity capital, or by starting a foreign joint venture. While many insurance companies in India have joined with foreign insurers to make joint ventures, any company that a domestic Indian insurer engaged with overseas to create a joint venture outside of India would not be allowed to enter into the domestic Indian insurance market. Although there is a drive to make certain that Indian companies wishing to start operations abroad will have the financial wherewithal to do so without putting domestic business at risk, there are no concrete financial guidelines at the moment, whether with regards to the minimum net worth necessary to apply to the regulator for authorization or the capital requirements for establishing joint-venture's overseas. However, the guidelines do mandate any losses incurred or capital requirements that must be met by foreign branches must be paid for by shareholder funds only, so as not to interfere with the policyholders' funds in the domestic Indian business. This could open a doorway to many opportunities for Indian insurance companies to globalize their business. In many places such as countries in the Middle East, there is a sizable Indian Diaspora which some insurers may already be considering tapping in to, however the opening of an office would also allow them to underwrite local business as well as expatriate Indians.
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