Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sufficient Life Cover

This would be my third blog on the topic - Insurance. This is in continuation to my earlier posts on the importance of term insurance and on how one needs to be careful and cautious on bundled insurance products. It is a sincere attempt to increase awareness on the importance of insurance.

Before I start, let me tell you a bit of history. I took my first life insurance policy almost 10 years back. My objective was two fold: to save tax and to get a handsome amount at the end of the term. And I had two vital questions before I opted for the policy: what was the premium (mine was around Rs.8500 per year) and how much money will I get back (I was told that I would get around 1.25 lakhs + bonus + some other profit share). With a wide grin on my face and without much further thinking, I became a proud insured person. And one had very little option at that time.

Ten years later and having gained some basic understanding of insurance, I keep asking people whether they have their life insured. Nowadays most have. And when I ask what is the sum assured, the most likely answers are either that they don't know or that they pay Rs. X as quarterly/ monthly premium. Some go on to say that they will get Rs. Y lakhs at the end of "n" years. In another instance, I was laughed upon by an insurance agent when I said that I need to know the premium amount for a “term insurance” of 20 lakhs. Why on earth would someone want to spend Rs.6500 per year for a policy that gives zero returns at the end of policy term! The agent seemed genuinely confused!!

Insurance is defined as the equitable transfer of the risk of a loss, from one entity to another, in exchange for a premium, and can be thought of as a guaranteed and known small loss to prevent a large, possibly devastating loss. So if I have a car worth 5 lakhs, I can prevent the monetary impact of loss (by accident/ theft) of my car (valued at 5 lakhs) by paying a relatively smaller premium (of say Rs.12,000). So an insurance policy hedges the risk of loss of a valuable asset for a small price. Mind you, motor insurance is mandated by law. Any vehicle plying on public roads needs to have at least third party coverage, where if the vehicle meets with an accident, the policy can cover damages to the third party. Even though insurance is a matter of solicitation, law mandates it to cover the risk for third parties! If one wants to cover own damages, then the premium to be paid is higher (comprehensive vehicle insurance).

Given below are some basic facts about insurance:
  • Insurance is important
  • Insurance has a cost and it needs to treated as an expense
  • Insurance is not an investment
  • More the insurance cover, the more the premium
  • More the risk, more the premium
Let us get back to some basic questions: Do you have life insurance? Do you have sufficient life cover?

Take half an hour from your schedule and assess your insurance portfolio. For each policy, verify how much insurance cover you have. If in doubt, get in touch with your agent or life insurer – it may be spread across LIC policies, ULIPs and similar products. But take stock of what is the total “sum assured” for all your policies. The result can be very disturbing. “Sum assured” is that amount that your family may have for livelihood, education and expenses, in case something happens to you – Is that sufficient? Do you have that comfort feeling?

The sum assured should be sufficient and comfortable for the purpose of insurance – monetary assurance to your dependents in case, god forbid, of your loss of life. Most people fall well short of this “sufficient and comfortable” life cover because of two reasons – they are not aware of the importance of life insurance or they already have one or more high premium policies due to which they cannot afford another one. I have tried to cover the first reason till now. The second one need some real thought.

It is not sufficient that you have insurance (one or more, from different insurance companies/ agents), you must have adequate cover. People usually become “under insured” because they opted for money back policies, endowment plans and ULIPs. These are expensive forms of life insurance – one pay higher premium for lower sum assured (of course one get “returns” from that). But remember that investment is not the primary purpose of an insurance policy. It is insurance. Period. And the primary evaluation criteria while taking a policy should be the cover (sum assured) associated with it. Other criteria of importance are the premium (cost involved) and the policy term (coverage period).

If you do not have sufficient insurance, please bear in mind that life insurance is not very expensive. When I say life insurance, I mean pure term insurance. Term insurance is the most economical and effective form of life insurance. One can add a fresh term plan to the insurance portfolio by buying a new policy. Make sure that it has sufficient cover and extends to a term of your needs. Since term plans are “less profitable” for insurance companies, they offer lower commissions to agents and they in turn never promote term plans. So it is up to us to ensure that our most basic insurance needs are met in the most effective and economical way. Make sure that you have adequate life cover and then, and only then, think about end of term returns and annual premiums.

Disclaimer: The views posted in this blog are my own and are based purely on my own way of assessments. Readers are  requested to consult with their financial/ insurance advisers before making any investment/ insurance decision, do their own due diligence and validate factual information.

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