"All these years, the nationalised insurers have been bleeding us". This was the cryptic remark of Mr. N. Rangachary, chairman, Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA), when asked the reason for new accounting norms introduced for insurance companies in India by the IRDA.
Strong views indeed. But then, that is Mr. Rangachary for you, a customer friendly regulator who does not mince his words.
Mr. Rangachary's career record is, like his usual attire of white shirt and white trousers, spotless. And, this is trait took him from being a junior officer in the income tax department, to the post of chairman, Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT).
A principled man, he was once asked aboard a train from Chennai to New Delhi, as to why a person of his stature was travelling by train. To which, he humbly replied, "This is my private visit. I came here in connection with my father's death ceremony. And I can afford only a train travel."
Mr. Rangachary's penchant for idealism is largely due to the influence of his mentor D. Rangaswamy, partner, D. Rangaswamy & Co, a firm of chartered accountants where he did his mandatory practical training. Two other people who have influenced him in life are Mr. R. Balagangadharan, partner, D. Rangaswamy & Co and Mr. C.C. Ganapathy, commissioner of the income tax department.
Mr. Rangachary stood out from the crowd from his early days. Recalls Mr. Balagangadharan, "As a fifteen year old boy, he came to my office accompanied by his father. The one thing that was prominent then, as it is now, was the "srichoornam or the tilak" on his forehead."
Having enrolled with the firm, Mr. Rangachary went on to pass the chartered accountancy course with flying colours. He then decided to join the income tax department, despite having an enticing offer from the Hindu group of publications. In the ensuing years, he also completed his courses in cost accounting and company secretary.
An erudite regulator
Mr. Rangachary, is well versed in Hindu scriptures and the shastras. It was his erudition in scriptures that made a German university to approach him to check and correct their English translation of the "Upanishads".
Orthodox to the core, another interesting nugget about him is that, he never touches any outside food! Even when he travels abroad, he carries with him packets of "Aval" or flattened rice to be had with milk and fruits!
Despite these traits, he has always succeeded in leaving his imprint wherever he served – whether as the chairman, CBDT or as the financial advisor for United India Insurance Company Ltd, Chennai or at Indian Space and Research Organisation (ISRO). He has now been adorned with the mantle of "supercop" of the Indian insurance industry, which is in the throes of a massive liberlisation. Those who have come know him tell that the industry is in the right hands.
Mr. Rangachary is the first insurance regulator to receive the excellence award from the US-based, International Insurance Council -- a council of leading insurers working to liberalise the closed insurance markets around the world. In all the earlier 18 occasions, the council had awarded only the chief executives of the insurance companies for their professional accomplishments. However, humble that he is, Mr. Rangachary dedicates the award to the people of India. According to him, "It is the people of India who had the vision to agree to broad base the insurance industry".
Ever since he assumed the chairmanship of the, then, interim regulatory body in 1995, like a surgeon he began working systematically to bring different industry bodies under his control, including the office of insurance controller and the tariff advisory committee – the apex premium fixing body for general insurers.
Customer friendly that he is, he did not accept the stand of the General Insurance Company for the upward revision of motor insurance premium, and also fought to reduce the fire insurance rates by 30 per cent. The reason according to him, "the four general insurance companies are making undue profits".
In a bid to prepare the industry for the onslaught of privatisation, he recently helped draft the accounting norms for life and general insurers. He also drafted the regulations for the appointment of actuaries, insurance brokers, agents and surveyors. These drafts are to be finalised shortly and will be implemented soon.
Even his opponents have only admiration for the way in which he works. This is largely because he "listens to varied views and never hesitates to clarify doubts." According to Mr. S.V. Mony, former chairman of GIC, he is today a "well informed regulator, who is respected by his fellow insurance regulators elsewhere in the world."
Whatever, be the case, there is no doubt that with a man like him at the helm, the privatisation process of the insurance industry will be a smooth and level playing one!