Top life insurance companies

Insurance, to put it simply, is a fall back option for you and your loved ones, in case something happens to you. Whether it is an accident that puts you out of work temporarily, a natural disaster that damages your personal property, or worse, loss of life, the insurance company throws a lifeline in a time of utmost turmoil. Historically, the concept of insurance has been linked to the fear of sudden, unexpected loss of income. Thus it has always translated into a substitute for the income of the familys primary earner- in other words, the male head of the family.


The Changing Perception of woman:


While this concept was widely accepted and even justified vociferously years ago when barely a dozen women in a thousand crossed the threshold of the home to go to work, it is no longer viable or practical for the woman of today who has the education, experience and exposure to make well thought out decisions for herself and her family. Nor is she lacking in courage or conviction or in her ability to act on her decision and bring it to successful culmination. Today we accept more readily the pivotal role of woman as an efficient manager of her household, teacher to her children, equal partner to her spouse, and decision maker in her home in addition to managing a successful career. Perceptions and attitudes have transformed over the years to view woman as equally capable, intelligent and efficient as any man but has this progressive trend permeated into the field of insurance? After all, insurance can also be viewed as the value that is placed on the contribution of the insured to his/ her loved ones.


Insurance trends:


World over it is found that the percentage of men who have insurance cover is far greater than women. Why are the figures skewed against women? Reputed insurers in India confirm that the trend is no different here. In India, it is the man who is traditionally expected to be the earning member of the family. He is responsible for funding basic necessities- food, shelter, education, health for all his family members and is also required to plan for their future. While this mindset hasnt been wholly obliterated by the advent of the new age woman, the role of man and woman as equal shareholders in providing for the family is slowly but undeniably gaining currency. In this environment, it is surprising to see that insurance for women still accounts for only about 20- 30% of the total business among major providers in India.


Although a positive shift is seen in the trend- with a perceptible improvement over the past few years in insurance policies for women, traditional India has not yet awakened to the true worth of the Indian womans contribution to her family.


By far, the main barriers against insuring women are as follows:


1) Barrier: There are fewer women who are salaried as opposed to men. Thus the argument- why shell out good money to insure a person who does not have a financial contribution to make?


Rationale: True, in many families the woman may not be bringing in a salary, however, she definitely makes a significant value addition to the family in more ways than one. And most of these can be valued monetarily, too. Consider a typical stay-at-home wife and mother. She cooks, cleans the house, washes clothes/ vessels, gets the clothes ironed and ready, takes care of logistics for school going children, takes charge of teaching them, buys groceries/ veggies, replenishes essentials about the house, cares for elders in the house, and fulfills many such other responsibilities. Now, just imagine this woman has suddenly decided to take a couple of months off to go on a vacation. In order to keep from chaos erupting in the house, the earning member will have to employ, at the very least- a cook, servant maid, nurse/ ayah, a boy to buy essentials and a tution teacher. This means that when a woman is home carrying out all her responsibilities she is saving the money that needs to be paid to all the various people that are needed in her absence. Now, isnt that financial contribution??


2) Barrier: In many dual income homes, the mans paycheck is still far bigger than the womans. It is the higher income earner who needs to be insured, isnt it??


Rationale: In most Indian marriages, the woman is often a good 4- 10 years younger than her husband. She starts her career at about the same age as the man but at any given point of time she may be earning lesser than him for the simple reason that she has fewer years of experience as she is younger. As she grows within the organization, she has the potential to earn as much or more than her spouse. Among recently married couples, it is not unusual to find wives earning as much as or more than the husbands. The purpose of insurance is to provide a buffer against a sudden loss of income- whether higher or lower, which is being used to maintain a certain standard of living. Where then does the question of who should be insured arise?


3) Barrier: The woman as sole bread winner is still a great rarity in the Indian society. Social acceptability is still ages away for single parent homes and even less for single women parents.


Rationale: True, single parent households are still very rare and among those single women parent households are rarer still. However, they are not non existent. In such cases more than any other, insurance is truly a lifeline to the loved ones in case of death and it is a huge psychological support to the insured in case injury or accident make it impossible to continue working. From this perspective, insurance is crucial for these families.


4) Barrier: The male ego barrier is still very much in evidence specially among the older generation of Indians. For most of them, it is still considered a mans domain to provide for his wife and children as much as it is considered shameful to take the wifes financial contribution in running the household.


Rationale: Fortunately, the Gen X youth have a more modern view of gender equality. Ideas like these have become outdated in the metros where young men and women are increasingly competing for the same plum positions at top workplaces. Insurance companies themselves have started to target rural woman as potential customers by offering special insurance products tailor made to their needs. For instance, the Bajaj Swayam Shakthi Suraksha plan. Over the years, womens empowerment schemes have also heralded a significant shift in attitudes of both rural men and women and brought to fore the unique abilities and talents of women. Although the transformation is in no way complete, the change is happening, slowly but surely.


In addition to all of the above, it is necessary to bring about a change in how we perceive insurance itself. Most oft, insurance is viewed as merely a financial aid to tide over a crisis period when the main provider is unable to work or in worst case, deceased. However, insurance has much more to offer- it is an effective way to plan your tax. It gives much needed mental peace and moral support in times of crises and allows you to focus your energies on the present instead of worrying about your future.


The news isnt all bad for women. Some insurers make their products even more attractive to women by giving them a special advantage in the form of accepting a lower premium form them as opposed to men of the same age. Top insurer Birla Sun Life claimed a phenomenal 5 fold increase in female policy takers from 2005 onwards.


Let us sum up the changing scenario with this new trend. Top insurers are increasing the number of female agents to sell their products. Reason- women agents have been found to be more persuasive and thus more effective than male counterparts. While not exactly proving the point under discussion, this trend is definitely significant in underlining the growing focus on women by the insurance industry.


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