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Bancassurance: A SWOT Analysis

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Bancassurance: A SWOT Analysis

By Manoj Kumar,
ACII (UK), CPCU (USA), ARe (USA), ARM (USA), FIII (India). MBA

President & Managing Partner, Bancassurance Consultants Worldwide Ltd. (BCWL)
Website: www.bc-worldwide.com | Email: manoj@bc-worldwide.com

This article was published by Financial Express in the abridged form in its edition on April 11, 2000

Manoj Kumar


Bancassurance in its simplest form is the distribution of insurance products through a bank's distribution channels. In concrete terms Bancassurance, which is also known as Allfinanz - describes a package of financial services that can fulfill both banking and insurance needs at the same time. It takes various forms in various countries depending upon the demography and economic and legislative climate of that country. Demographic profile of the country decides the kind of products Bancassurance shall be dealing in with, economic situation will determine the trend in terms of turnover, market share, etc., whereas legislative climate will decide the periphery within which the Bancassurance has to operate.

The motives behind Bancassurance also vary. For banks it is a means of product diversification and a source of additional fee income. Insurance companies see Bancassurance as a tool for increasing their market penetration and premium turnover. The customer sees Bancassurance as a bonanza in terms of reduced price, high quality product and delivery at doorsteps. Actually, everybody is a winner here.

Why should banks enter insurance?

There are several reasons why banks should seriously consider Bancassurance, the most important of which is increased return on assets (ROA). One of the best ways to increase ROA, assuming a constant asset base, is through fee income. Banks that build fee income can cover more of their operating expenses, and one way to build fee income is through the sale of insurance products. Banks that effectively cross-sell financial products can leverage their distribution and processing capabilities for profitable operating expense ratios.

By leveraging their strengths and finding ways to overcome their weaknesses, banks could change the face of insurance distribution. Sale of personal line insurance products through banks meets an important set of consumer needs. Most large retail banks engender a great deal of trust in broad segments of consumers, which they can leverage in selling them personal line insurance products. In addition, a bank’s branch network allows the face to face contact that is so important in the sale of personal insurance.

Another advantage banks have over traditional insurance distributors is the lower cost per sales lead made possible by their sizable, loyal customer base. Banks also enjoy significant brand awareness within their geographic regions, again providing for a lower per-lead cost when advertising through print, radio and/or television. Banks that make the most of these advantages are able to penetrate their customer base and markets for above-average market share.

Other bank strengths are their marketing and processing capabilities. Banks have extensive experience in marketing to both existing customers (for retention and cross selling) and non-customers (for acquisition and awareness). They also have access to multiple communications channels, such as statement inserts, direct mail, ATMs, telemarketing, etc. Banks' proficiency in using technology has resulted in improvements in transaction processing and customer service.

By successfully mining their customer databases, leveraging their reputation and 'distribution systems’ (branch, phone, and mail) to make appointments, and utilizing 'sales techniques’ and products tailored to the middle market, European banks have more than doubled the conversion rates of insurance leads into sales and have increased sales productivity to a ratio which is more than enough to make Bancassurance a highly profitable proposition.

Benefits to insurers

Insurers have much to gain from marketing through banks. Personal-lines carriers have found it difficult to grow using traditional agency systems because price competition has driven down margins and increased the compensation demands of successful agents. Over the last decade, life agents have sold fewer and larger policies to a more upscale client base. Middle-income consumers, who comprise the bulk of bank customers, get little attention from most life agents. By capitalizing on bank relationships, insurers will recapture much of this under served market.

Most insurers that have tried to penetrate middle-income markets through alternative channels such as direct mail have not done well. Clearly, a change in approach is necessary. As with any initiative, success requires a clear understanding of what must be done, how it will be done and by whom. The place to begin is to segment the strengths that the bank and insurer bring to the business opportunity.

Collaboration is the key

In their natural and traditional roles and with their current skills, neither banks nor insurance companies could effectively mount a Bancassurance start-up alone. Collaboration is the key to making this new channel work.

Banks bring a variety of capabilities to the table. Most obviously, they own proprietary databases that can be tapped for middle-market warm leads. In addition, they can leverage their name recognition and reputation at both local and regional levels. Strong players also excel at managing multiple distribution channels, cross-selling banking products, and using direct mail. However, most banks lack experience in several areas critical to successful Bancassurance strategies: in particular, developing insurance products, selling through face-to-face "push" channels underwriting, and managing long-tail insurance products.

Where banks usually fall short, a strong insurer will excel. Most have substantial product and underwriting experience, strong "push" - channel capabilities, and investment management expertise. On the other hand, they tend to lack experience or ability in the areas where banks prevail. They have little or no background in managing low-cost distribution channels; they often lack local and regional name recognition and reputation; and they seldom possess access to or experience with the middle market.


Bancassurance in India - A SWOT Analysis

Even though, banks and insurance companies in India are yet to exchange their wedding rings, Bancassurance as a means of distribution of insurance products is already in force in some form or the other. Banks are selling Personal Accident and Baggage Insurance directly to their Credit Card members as a value addition to their products. Banks also participate in the distribution of mortgage linked insurance products like fire, motor or cattle insurance to their customers. Banks can straightaway leverage their existing capabilities in terms of database and face to face contact to market insurance products to generate some income for themselves which hitherto was not thought of.

Once Bancassurance is embraced in India with full force, a lot will be at stake. Huge capital investment will be required to create infrastructure particularly in IT and telecommunications, a call center will have to be created, top professionals of both industries will have to be hired, an R & D cell will need to be created to generate new ideas and products. It is therefore essential to have a SWOT analysis done in the context of Bancassurance experiment in India.

Strengths

In a country of 1 Billion people, sky is the limit for personal lines insurance products. There is a vast untapped potential waiting to be mined particularly for life insurance products. There are more than 900 Million lives waiting to be given a life cover (total number of individual life policies sold in 1998-99 was just 91.73 Million). There are about 200 Million households waiting to be approached for a householder's insurance policy. Millions of people travelling in and out of India can be tapped for Overseas Mediclaim and Travel Insurance policies. After discounting the population below poverty line the middle market segment is the second largest in the world after China. The insurance companies worldwide are eyeing on this, why not we preempt this move by doing it ourselves?

Our other strength lies in a huge pool of skilled professionals whether it is banks or insurance companies who may be easily relocated for any Bancassurance venture. LIC and GIC both have a good range of personal line products already lined up, therefore R & D efforts to create new products will be minimal in the beginning. Additionally, GIC with 4200 operating offices and LIC with 2048 branch offices are almost already omnipresent, which is so essential for the development of any Bancassurance project.

Weaknesses

The IT culture is unfortunately missing completely in all of the future collaborators i.e. banks, GIC & LIC. A late awakening seems to have dawned upon but it is a case of too late and too little. Elementary IT requirement like networking (LAN) is not in place even in the headquarters of these institutions, when the need today is of Wide Area Network (WAN) and Vast Area Network (VAN). Internet connection is not available even to the managers of operating offices.

The middle class population that we are eyeing at are today overburdened, first by inflationary pressures on their pockets and then by the tax net. Where is the money left to think of insurance ? Fortunately, LIC schemes get IT exemptions but personal line products from GIC (mediclaim already has this benefit) like householder, travel, etc. also need to be given tax exemption to further the cause of insurance and to increase domestic revenue for the country.
Another drawback is the inflexibility of the products i.e. it can not be tailor made to the requirements of the customer. For a Bancassurance venture to succeed it is extremely essential to have in-built flexibility so as to make the product attractive to the customer.

Opportunities

Banks' database is enormous even though the goodwill may not be the same as in case of their European counterparts. This database has to be dissected variously and various homogeneous groups are to be churned out in order to position the Bancassurance products. With a good IT infrastructure, this can really do wonders.

Other developing economies like Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore have already taken a leap in this direction and they are not doing badly. There is already an atmosphere created in the country for liberalisation and there appears to be a political consensus also on the subject. Therefore, RBI or IRA should have no hesitation in allowing the marriage of the two to take place. This can take the form of merger or acquisition or setting up a joint venture or creating a subsidiary by either party or just the working collaboration between banks and insurance companies.

Threats

Success of a Bancassurance venture requires change in approach, thinking and work culture on the part of everybody involved. Our work force at every level are so well entrenched in their classical way of working that there is a definite threat of resistance to any change that Bancassurance may set in. Any relocation to a new company or subsidiary or change from one work to a different kind of work will be resented with vehemence.

Another possible threat may come from non-response from the target customers. This happened in USA in 1980s after the enactment of Garn - St Germaine Act. A rush of joint ventures took place between banks and insurance companies and all these failed due to the non-response from the target customers. US banks have now again (since late 1990s) turned their attention to insurance mainly life insurance.

The investors in the capital may turn their face off in case the rate of return on capital falls short of the existing rate of return on capital. Since banks and insurance companies have major portion of their income coming from the investments, the return from Bancassurance must at least match those returns. Also if the unholy alliances are allowed to take place there will be fierce competition in the market resulting in lower prices and the Bancassurance venture may never break-even.

Looking Around

Hardly 20% of all US banks were selling insurance in 1998 against almost 70% to 90% in many W. European countries. Market penetration of Bancassurance in new life businesses in Europe ranges between 30% in U.K. to nearly 70% in France. Almost 100% banks in France are selling insurance products. In 1991 Nationale Nederlanden of Netherlands merged with Post Bank, the banking subsidiary of the post office to create the ING Group - a new dimension to the Bancassurance i.e. harnessing the databank of the post office as well. CNP, the largest independent insurance company in France has developed its product distribution through post offices. The merger of Winterthur, the largest Swiss insurance company with Credit Suisse and Citibank with Travellers Group have resulted in some of the largest financial conglomerates in the world.

Despite the phenomenal success of Bancassurance in Europe, property and casualty products have not made much inroads. In Spain, Belgium, Germany and France where more than 50% of all new life premium is generated by Bancassurance, only about 6% P & C business comes from banks in Spain, 5% in Belgium, 4% in France and Italy.

A recent study by Boston Consulting Group and Bank Administration Institute in USA claims that if banks made a major commitment to insurance and a more narrowly targeted commitment to investors, within 5 years they could increase retail revenues by nearly 50%. It further states that Banks could capture 10% to 15% of the total U.S. insurance and investment market by selling products to 20% of their existing customers.

Banks' existing infrastructure enables them to operate at expense levels that are 30% to 50% lower than those of traditional insurers.

Bancassurance's bank-branch based sales system sells 3 to 5 times as many insurance policies as a conventional as a conventional insurance sales and distribution force.

By simplifying Bancassurance products each back office bank employee can quintuple managing policies compared to traditional insurers.

Lessons

We should take a leaf from the experienced players and develop Bancassurance only gradually. As happened in France, Italy, Germany and Canada - banks were allowed first only to distribute the insurance products for a fee. This itself amounted to substantial income for banks since they were not carrying the risks and product development was also left to insurance companies. This seems fair since each player should contribute towards something in which he excels; banks in mass distribution and insurance companies in risk management. After stabilization, the roles may be expanded in opposite directions.

We need to develop innovative products and services. CIBC in Canada relieves the customer of having to report and resolve auto claims. The bank assumes responsibility for the process, even phoning the police for the customer at the time of the accident. Another example is provided by Banco Bilbao Vizcaya of Spain who offers a term life policy with simple premium payments and a clear contract that is designed to be sold, issued and signed at the point of sale within 15 minutes.

Banks and insurance companies in India wishing to pursue high aspiration insurance strategies would do well to learn from European bancassurers, who have decades of experience managing insurance subsidiaries. Some of them - Lloyds TSB in the UK, Credit Agricole in France and Spain's Banco Bilbao Vizcaya - are delivering outstanding results. These bank have profitably sold insurance products to more than a fourth of their customers while generating more than 20% on sales. Credit Agricole, the second largest life insurer in France, with $11 billion of premium in force, employs only 170 people in its insurance subsidiary. It is able to limit overhead by harnessing the bank's existing resources and capabilities.

Obstacles and success factors

Even insurers and banks that seem ideally suited for a Bancassurance partnership can run into problems during implementation. The most common obstacles to success are poor manpower management, lack of a sales culture within the bank, no involvement by the branch manager, insufficient product promotions, failure to integrate marketing plans, marginal database expertise, poor sales channel linkages, inadequate incentives, resistance to change, negative attitudes toward insurance and unwieldy marketing strategy.

Conversely, Bancassurance ventures that succeed tend to have certain things in common. Factors that appear to be critical to success include strategies consistent with the bank's vision, knowledge of target customers' needs, defined sales process for introducing insurance services, simple yet complete product offerings, strong service delivery mechanism, quality administration, synchronized planning across all business lines and subsidiaries, complete integration of insurance with other bank products and services, extensive and high-quality training, sales management tracking system for reporting on agents' time and results of bank referrals and relevant and flexible database systems.

Finally

The creation of Bancassurance operations has a material impact on the financial services industry at large. Banks, insurance companies and traditional fund management houses are converging towards a model of global retail financial institution offering a wide array of products. It leads to the creation of 'one-stop shop' where a customer can apply for mortgages, pensions, savings and insurance products.

Discovery comes from looking at the same thing as everyone else but seeing something different. Banks' desire to increase fee income has them looking at insurance. Insurance carriers and banks can become part of the vision through strategic partnerships. Now is the time to position your company for the new millennium of insurance product distribution.


Note: This article is copyright intellectual property of "Insurance Professional, i.e. www.einsuranceprofessional.com". Any part of this article may be reproduced only with the express reference to the author, i.e. "Manoj Kumar, ACII, CPCU" and the website. It will be helpful though not mandatory if the author is notified about the reference.

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