Irdai on a Transformational Journey to Take Insurance to Masses

Under new chairman Debasish Panda, the regulator is engaging with the industry more than ever and looking to get the sector charged up.

Open sessions with company founders every month and a separate email ID dedicate to tech entrepreneurs might sound like plans for venture funds to attract startups.

However, these are just two of the steps undertaken by the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI).

After years of being run in a hard-nosed, bureaucratic manner, the country’s insurance regulator is on a
transformational journey under new chairman Debasish Panda. This has elated founders of insurtech startups as well
as venture investors looking to bet on the space.

This is not completely a bolt out of the blue. It was all laid out in IRDAI’s
vision document for 2047, released last November. One of the major
target areas for the regulator is “boosting innovation, competition and
distribution efficiencies while mainstreaming technology and moving
towards [a] principle-based regulatory regime.

Some early signs of change are being seen already. Three new life insurance licences were given out this year, of
which two recipients — Digit and Acko — are startups. Currently, there are around 20 applications for fresh licences
being scrutinised by the regulator.

Easing access
“There was a time when mailing the chairman directly was not an option — it would bring you under their radar. But
now, I can send a direct mail with the agenda, and request for a meeting. And I always get a response,” said the chief
executive of an insurance company with both general and life licences.

Although industry insiders mostly had positive feedback, some founders are still a bit wary.

“It is great that new licences are being given out, but we need new categories of insurers like we saw happening in
the fintech space, something like a managed general agency. The regulator has heard us on these points, but nothing
much has moved,” said the founder of an insurtech startup.

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