Insurance a system of spreading the risk of one to the shoulders of many. It is a contract whereby the insurers, on receipt of a consideration known as premium, agree to indemnify the insured against losses arising out of certain specified unforeseen contingencies or perils insured against.

Insurance as a business began almost a century back. Insurance business gained momentum in East Pakistan during 1947-1971, when 49 insurance companies transacted both life and general insurance schemes. These companies were of various origins British, Australian, Indian, West Pakistani and local. Ten insurance companies had their head offices in East Pakistan, 27 in West Pakistan, and the rest were located outside Bangladesh. These were mostly limited liability companies. Some of these companies were specialized in dealing in a particular class of business, while others were composite companies that dealt in more than one class of business.

In 1972, the government of Bangladesh nationalized insurance industry by the Bangladesh Insurance (Nationalisation) Order 1972. By virtue of this order, save and except postal life insurance and foreign life insurance companies, all 49 insurance companies and organisations transacting insurance business in the country were placed in the public sector under five corporations. These were: the Jatiya Bima Corporation, Tista Bima Corporation, Karnafuli Bima Corporation, Rupsa Jiban Bima Corporation, and Surma Jiban Bima Corporation. The Jatiya Bima Corporation was an apex corporation only to supervise and control the activities of the other insurance corporations, which were responsible for underwriting. Tista and Karnafuli Bima Corporations were for general insurance and Rupsa and Surma for life insurance. The specialist life companies or the life portion of a composite company joined the Rupsa and Surma corporations while specialist general insurance companies or the general portion of a composite company joined the Tista and Karnafuli corporations.

The basic idea behind the formation of four underwriting corporations, two in each main branch of life and general, was to encourage competition even under a nationalised system. But the burden of administrative expenses incurred in maintaining two corporations in each front of life and general and an apex institution at the top outweighed the advantages of limited competition. Consequently, on 14 May 1973, a restructuring was made under the Insurance Corporations Act 1973. Following the Act, in place of five corporations the government formed two: the sadharan bima corporation for general business, and jiban bima corporation for life business.

The postal life insurance business and the life insurance business by foreign companies were still allowed to continue as before. In reality, only the American Life Insurance Company continued to operate in the life sector for both new business and servicing, while three other foreign life insurance continued to operate only for servicing their old policies issued during Pakistan days. Postal life maintained its business as before.

After 1973, general insurance business became the sole responsibility of the Sadharan Bima Corporation. Life insurance business was carried out by the Jiban Bima Corporation, the American Life insurance Company, and the Postal Life Insurance Department until 1994, when a change was made in the structural arrangement to keep pace with the new economic trend of liberalisation.

The Insurance Corporations Act 1973 was amended in 1984 to allow insurance companies in the private sector to operate side by side with Sadharan Bima Corporation and Jiban Bima Corporation. The Insurance Corporations Amendment Act 1984 allowed floating of insurance companies, both life and general, in the private sector subject to certain restrictions regarding business operations and reinsurance. Under the new act, all general insurance businesses emanating from the public sector were reserved for the state owned Sadharan Bima Corporation, which could also underwrite insurance business emanating from the private sector. The Act of 1984 made it a requirement for the private sector insurance companies to obtain 100% reinsurance protection from the Sadharan Bima Corporation. This virtually turned Sadharan Bima Corporation into a reinsurance organisation, in addition to its usual activities as direct insurer. Sadharan Bima Corporation itself had the right to reinsure its surplus elsewhere outside the country but only after exhausting the retention capacity of the domestic market. Such restrictions aimed at preventing outflow of foreign exchange in the shape of reinsurance premium and developing a reinsurance market within Bangladesh.

The restriction regarding business placement affected the interests of the private insurance companies in many ways. The restrictions were considered not congenial to the development of private sector business in insurance. Two strong arguments were put forward to articulate feelings: (a) Since the public sector accounted for about 80% of the total premium volume of the country, there was little premium left for the insurance companies in the private sector to survive. In this context, Sadharan Bima Corporation should not have been allowed to compete with the private sector insurance companies for the meager premium (20%) emanating from the private sector; (b) Being a competitor in the insurance market, Sadharan Bima Corporation was hardly acceptable as an agency to protect the interests of the private sector insurance companies and should not have retained the exclusive right to reinsure policies of these companies. The arrangement was in fact, against the principle of laissez faire.

Private sector insurance companies demanded withdrawal of the above restrictions so that they could (a) underwrite both public and private sector insurance business in competition with the Sadharan Bima Corporation, and (b) effect reinsurance to the choice of reinsurers. The government modified the system through promulgation of the Insurance Corporations (Amendment) Act 1990. The changes allowed private sector insurance companies to underwrite 50% of the insurance business emanating from the public sector and to place up to 50% of their reinsurance with any reinsurer of their choice, at home or abroad, keeping the remaining for placement with the Sadharan Bima Corporation.

According to the Insurance Act 2010, the capital and deposit requirements for formation of an insurance company are as follows:

Capital requirements: for life insurance company Tk 300 million, of which 60% shall be subscribed by the sponsors; for mutual life insurance company - Tk 15 million; for general insurance company Tk 400 million, of which 60% shall be subscribed by the sponsors; and for cooperative insurance society - Tk 25 million for life and general.

Deposit requirements (in cash or in approved securities): For life insurance Tk 15 million; for non-life insurance Tk 25 million; for mutual insurance company Tk 3 million; and for cooperative insurance society, in case of life insurance Tk 25 million.

The government guidelines for formation of an insurance company are:

(1) The intending sponsors must first submit an application in prescribed form to the Authority under Insurance Development and and Regulatory Authority Act, 2010 for prior permission. (2) After necessary scrutiny the Authority shall forward the application with his recommendation to the Ministry of Finance. (3) After further scrutiny, the Ministry of Finance shall submit its views to the Cabinet Committee constituted for this purpose. (4) The decision of the Committee, if affirmative, would be sent back to the Ministry of Finance, which in turn would send it back to the Regulatory Authority for communicating the same to the sponsors. (5) The sponsors would then be required to apply in a prescribed form to the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies to get registration as a public liability company under the Companies Act. Memorandum and Articles of Association duly approved by the Regulatory Authority would have to be submitted with the application. (6) Once the registration process was completed the sponsors would have to obtain permission of the securities and exchange commission to issue share capital. (7) Reinsurance arrangements would have to be made at this stage. (8) After all the above requirements were fulfilled the license to commence business under the Insurance Act, 2010 is to be obtained from the Regulatory Authority. Application can only be made subject to government announcements in this regard.

The control over insurance companies, including their functions relating to investments, taxation, and reporting, are regulated by the Finance Acts, the Insurance Act, 2010 and Insurance Development and and Regulatory Authority Act, 2010.

The privatisation policy adopted in 1985 paved the way for a number of insurers to emerge in the private sector. This resulted in a substantial growth of premium incomes, competition, improvement in services, and introduction of newer types of business in wider fields hitherto untapped. Prior to privatisation, the yearly gross premium volume of the country was approximately Tk 900 million in general insurance business and approximately Tk 800 million in life insurance business. In 2009, premium incomes raised to Tk 13,397 million in general insurance business and Tk 44,956 million in life insurance business.

Up to 2009, the government has given permission to 43 general insurance companies and 17 life insurance companies in the private sector. Insurers of the country now conduct almost all types of general and life insurance, except crop insurance and export credit guarantee insurance, which are available only with the Sadharan Bima Corporation.

Numerous institutions, associations and professional groups work to promote the development of insurance business in Bangladesh. Prominent among them are the Bangladesh Insurance Association and bangladesh insurance academy. Bangladesh Insurance Association was formed on 25 May 1988 under the Companies Act 1913. It is registered with the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and has 60 members. It aims at promoting, supporting and protecting the interests and welfare of the member companies.

Surveyors and insurance agents occupy a prominent position in the insurance market of Bangladesh. The surveyors are mainly responsible for surveying and assessing general insurance losses and occasionally, for valuation of insurance properties, while the agents work to procure both life and general insurance business against commission. The system of professional brokers has not yet developed in Bangladesh. However, it is a common practice of the insurers to engage salaried development officers for promotion of their insurance business. [AKAH Chowdhury]