A healthy first quarter for life insurance

The life insurance sector posted a buoyant first quarter, with weighted new business premiums up 5 per cent to $682.1 million.

This included sales from single premium products, which were up 6 per cent to $215.9 million, and weighted annual premium sales, ahead 5 per cent to $466.2 million.

The Life Insurance Association (LIA) noted when releasing the numbers yesterday that the total sum assured - which gives an indication of the protection cover - for new business grew strongly by 11 per cent, totalling $22.1 billion in the three months to March 31, compared with the same period last year.

About 44 per cent of the total sum assured was generated from sales by tied representatives, while bank representatives accounted for 22 per cent, and 30 per cent came from financial advisory representatives.

During the same period, 209 direct purchase insurance (DPI) policies were sold, drawing about $180,000 in weighted new premiums, of which 87 per cent were regular premium term life policies. DPI products are basic life plans sold without financial advice and bought directly from insurers' customer service centres or websites.

LIA president Khoo Kah Siang said: "We are encouraged by the first-quarter results which continued from strong growth seen in 2015. The life insurers have stepped up to the change in regulations and market demand well, and will continue to innovate to deliver life insurance solutions and services that meet the needs of consumers."

Last year, the LIA focused on implementing the key financial advisory industry review (Fair) initiatives, which include aggregator website compareFirst, DPI products and the balanced scorecard framework for financial adviser representatives.

Dr Khoo said a key reform under the Fair initiatives will involve including the projected yields to maturity or net returns in the benefit illustration of the participating life or "par" plans. This will be implemented alongside other enhancements on disclosure of insurance policy details relating to illustrated investment returns, bonuses as well as less jargon in policy documents.

The LIA said MediShield Life premiums have been excluded from LIA statistics from January.

Under this revised basis, new health insurance premiums in the first quarter of this year totalled $47 million, of which $38 million was from integrated plan (IP) premiums and IP riders, and the remaining $9 million from other medical plans and riders.

Dr Khoo also noted that despite the challenges of the investment market last year, he has not seen many insurers taking steps to cut the non-guaranteed bonus payouts for their par policies.

Most of the major life insurance players have completed their annual bonus declaration exercise.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2016, with the headline 'A healthy first quarter for life insurance'. Print Edition | Subscribe