Radhika Menon

Mumbai, May 9

HOW many employees in private insurance companies have prior industry experience? Less than 10 per cent, if industry sources are to be believed.

The influx of new companies has seen professionals with varied industry backgrounds - particularly financial services and FMCG - come on board. Still, shortage of quality manpower continues.

Solutions have come thick and fast. Recently, private insurance houses began tying up with local colleges to induct fresh blood.

ICICI Prudential, Bajaj Allianz and Tata AIG are trying various options to keep the employee strength at sustainable levels. However, there still remains a yawning gap between professional education and demand for manpower.

Mr Shubro J. Mitra, Chief of Human Resources, ICICI Prudential, says, "The insurance industry does not have trained manpower as the sector is still nascent. Of the 5,000 employees in ICICI Prudential, only 15 people have any sort of insurance background."

ICICI Prudential invests Rs 28 crore on training employees and agents. It signed a MoU last year with HR College, Mumbai. Students have the option of joining ICICI Prudential as advisors, and later on move up the ladder through its `Pinnacle Programme' to become unit managers.

At Kotak Mahindra Old Mutual Life Insurance, the story is not much different as only 10 per cent of its employees have prior experience in insurance.

At Bajaj Allianz, a management trainee programme had been initiated to train B-school candidates and groom them to take on operational responsibilities. Today, three branch offices are headed by such management trainees who had no insurance background.

"When we started, we were looking for domain specialists and trained manpower. It was a challenge for us to start our operations without trained manpower," says Mr Kamesh Goyal, CEO, Bajaj Allianz General.

Tata AIG Life has 1,000 employees. Plans are afoot to increase that to 4,000 by 2007. The company inaugurated `Universe of Life', its in-house training centre in Mumbai earlier this year.

A senior official at LIC says most trainers in private insurance companies are usually retired officials from LIC. Dr H. Sadhak, Director, Management Development Centre, says, "Insurance provides 15.5 per cent of the household savings and plays a strong role in the economy. Colleges and institutes should introduce subjects such as risk management and acturial sciences."

There are few professional courses on insurance. At a recent seminar, Mr T.K. Banerjee, member - life insurance, Insurance Regulatory Development Authority of India (IRDA) says, "There is a huge gap in insurance knowledge for back-end operations in the new insurance companies. New subjects such as unit-linked insurance, health insurance and bancassurance need to be understood. There is a dearth of insurance knowledge among those who have joined the emerging industry."

While Mr Banerjee suggests educational institutes take up the role of developing insurance education, right now Insurance Institute of India, Acturial Society and National Insurance Academy are among the few institutes that offer such courses.

In a recent case, the principal of HR college of Commerce and Economics, Mumbai was dismissed on the grounds that she had introduced a vocational subject - Principles and Practices of Insurance.

The reason was the subject had not been approved under the relevant provisions of the Maharashtra Universities Act, 1994. Ms Shahani was later given a clean chit. Principles and Practices of Insurance is now an approved subject.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated May 10, 2005)
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