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Insurance and its relevance to global economy

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“The trade of insurance gives great security to the fortunes of private people, and by dividing among a great many that loss which would ruin an individual, makes it fall light and easy upon the whole society. In order to give this security, however, it is necessary that the insurers should have a very large capital.” (Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Scottish Economist – 1776).

The history of insurance traces the development of the modern business of insurance. Insurance is the oldest method of transferring risk, and is deemed to be one of the oldest in the field of economics. The first activities like insurance appeared nearly 4000 years ago and is as old as the historical society.

The so-called “bottomry” contracts were known to merchants of Babylon as early as 4000–3000BC. Bottomry was also practiced by the Hindus in 600 BC and was well understood in ancient Greece as early as the 4th century BCE.

[Bottomry, referring to the ship’s bottom or keel, is a maritime transaction, where the owner of a vessel borrows money and uses the ship itself as collateral. If the money with interest is not paid at the time appointed at the ship’s safe return or if the ship sinks, the owner forfeits the ship itself to the creditor.

While insurance can be traced back thousands of years, it is only in the last half century that we have come to a comprehensive and deep understanding of this most vital, yet complex, economic institution. To really understand insurance, it takes a deep knowledge of the subtleties of risk and probability, of how rational (and not so rational) people behave when faced with risk; of how insurance companies can be structured to cope with risk; of how governments can effectively intercede when insurance markets fail to deliver

Whether in the past periods or in the modern period the main goal of insurance is protecting health and assets of the people. Insurance is the main element in the operation of sophisticated national economies throughout the world today. Insurance stimulates business activities to operate in a cost-effective manner, by managing risks which associated with business activities are assumed by third parties. As we know, risks and bad accidents can happen always in life. These risks affect people badly and negatively every time. But insurance protects people from these risks. We can say that insurance is a measure, which people take in advance to risks which can happen every time and at any time.

The importance of insurance, like other financial institutions such as banking and the stock market, is vital for the sustainable economic growth of any country. The risk is inherent in every human activity ranging from social life to economic activities. The huge contribution of insurance to the economy as a whole, promotes a greater sense of security, peace of mind, reduction in anxiety and fear among individuals, businesses and governments.

The insurance industry is part of the services sector and is deemed to be a secondary branch of economic activity. Its effect is essentially indirect and intangible, because it deals with consequences of economic activity that would occur if insurance did not exist. Insurance serves production and consumption, international and interpersonal trade, payment and credit transactions, as well as the conservation of existing and creation of new wealth. However, the insurance industry has developed differently across industrialized countries due to differences in regulatory legislations by various regimes.

To individuals, insurance purchase enables an individual to sustain continuous consumption of his property in the case of theft or damage or due to other endangerments and perils.

With regard to corporate institutions, insurance enables businesses to operate in a cost-effective manner by providing risk transfer mechanisms.

To the Government, on the other hand, expenditure on damages caused by natural disasters such as fire, flood and other natural disasters is reduced, if not eliminated, with the help of insurance.

In developed countries, insurance has become a vital part of the economy and they make it a point to insure all assets with reputed insurance companies. Insurance lets people as well as businesses protect themselves against certain potential losses and financial hardship at a reasonable acceptable rate. In modern times there are certain specialized insurances which play great roles in the economy of countries.

The importance of the insurance-growth nexus is growing due to the increasing share of the insurance sector in the aggregate financial sector in almost every emerging and mature market economy.

The main intention of this article is to add to the understanding of the role of the insurance sector in the finance-growth nexus – whether and how insurance influences economic growth. The rationale behind this notion is twofold: on the one hand, the importance of the insurance sector within total financial intermediation has risen over time, including the magnitude and intensity of links between insurance, banking and capital markets. Thus the likely impact of insurance on the economy, consequently, increases.

The literature on finance and growth does not, however, pay sufficient attention to the important and rising role played by non-banking financial intermediaries such as insurance companies. While the actuarial processes for insurance have been in continuous development, it really took till the second half of the twentieth century for a modern theory of insurance economics to emerge. This laid out a model of an optimal insurance contract between risk-averse consumers and an insurance company capable of diversification.

In this ever growing field of enquiry, in which rational consumers and rational insurers come together in a mutually beneficial trade of risk, it deepened the understanding of how people come to share risk in an insurance market, and the natural frictions that occur (particularly the conflicting incentives of the policyholders and insurers); there was growing dissatisfaction with a theory that ignored the quirkiness of actual behavior; in real life people might not be quite so rational and raised questions like: “How would insurance market work in a world of limited rationality”?

Modern financial theory has another set of fascinating implications for those interested in insurance. Uncertainty is at the heart of insurance. This is already manifested in our limited knowledge about observable past events. All our activities depend on uncertain and unknown circumstances beyond the control of a single individual. Unambiguous, deterministic cause-effect relationships are replaced by ambiguity in the perception of the economic environment. With respect to the future, uncertainty looms still larger. Insurance is, however, of particular importance for risks with negative consequences.

What does “risk” mean in insurance parlance?

Usually risk is understood to mean as the danger of incurring a loss. This danger can materialize in different ways in a disaster-stricken community, ranging from complete loss, impairment or reduction of value of an asset, to the disruption of business, to the loss of a limb or even loss of life.

What is meant by the colloquial use of the word – “insurance”?

The pertinent literature gives various definitions of insurance. Problems arise because the term originates from business practices.

Individuals seek to protect themselves against irregular but probabilistic shocks impinging on their assets “health”, “wealth”, and “wisdom” by employing one or several tools of risk management, mainly by purchasing insurance. Therefore, the importance of insurance presumably increases with growth in the value of these assets. In step with the growth in general wealth, the concentration of assets has also increased, leading to so-called catastrophic risks.

It will expose us to modern financial theories such as asset pricing theory and option theory and, in doing so, will expose us to such exotic financial instruments as catastrophe bonds. It will take us deep into public policy and the welfare state and into the challenges of operating universal health insurance programs; and it will face us with the challenges of a world where new and unpredicted risks are appearing and for which normal insurance mechanisms may not function; where such catastrophes are either triggered by human failure as a result of man-made disasters; or by nature (natural disasters).

Disasters with the largest financial consequences fall into the category of natural disasters. We have also witnessed that the more recent disasters are also the more severe ones. This gives rise to the conjecture that increasingly, natural disasters are in fact man-made, caused notably by environmental pollution through Carbon-dioxide – GreenHouse Gases, causing global warming, and the latest Coronavirus – Covid -19 pandemic, pushing mankind into a state of extreme, irremediable, ruin and misfortune.

These challenges will lead to the expectation that the demand for insurance will tend to increase in the future. To achieve this, the industry has to be prepared for the unexpected and to be able to timely respond to the challenges laid before them; insurers and reinsurers must know and follow the trends and dynamics that characterises the global insurance and reinsurance industry.

ZULKIFLI NAZIM

[The writer counts over 50 years in the insurance industry and is an Associate of the Chartered Insurance Institute [London] and also holds the title of Chartered Insurance Practitioner; as well as an Associate of the Insurance Institute of India.]



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Opinion

A change of economic policies for Sri Lanka

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Millions of Sri Lankans are anxiously waiting to see what actions will be taken to make life bearable again.If we follow the example of successful countries we see them exploit their opportunities, and use the wealth created, not to import cars and go on luxury trips abroad, but to re-invest the money proceeds in further projects to bring in even more money. They proceed in this way until their citizens have good standard of living. Probably, the best example of that compounding of wealth is Singapore.

Singapore exploited its geographic advantages. It provided cruise ships with bunkering services and repair, later they provided airlines with refueling and expanded that to one night free stop- overs for passengers to buy luxury goods at their glamorous, tax-free shopping malls. The Japanese were making wonderful new gadgets: cameras, music players, portable radio cassette players, binoculars, all available in the malls and sold tax free!! Lee Kuan Yu forbade the ladies to wear denim jeans, and to wear dresses with hem lines coming down two inches below the knee! He even instructed the ladies to smile! No man could have long hair for fear of arrest. Littering was prohibited, so was chewing gum and smoking butts on the roads and pavements. The place was kept clean!

They used the proceeds arising from all this commercial activity to build housing blocks, develop new roads and other beneficial projects. (Individuals were not allowed to walk away with the profits, just to fritter them away.) Sentosa Island had installed a communications dish antenna connecting it with New York and the financial markets. This was an example of intelligent seizing of opportunities. I account for this intelligent development as due to the high educational and knowledge of Singapore’s progressive management. The result is a firm currency, holding its value.

Something similar has happened to Russia. Russia is rich. It is under progressive intelligent management. Stalin had developed the railway network across the full eleven time zones. But many areas remained to be connected. Putin found the finances to develop coal mines, develop oil and gas deposits and build railway bridges and tunnels for better access to markets and their demand for Russian products. Even as you read this, trains of 70 plus trucks, each with 70 tons of coal are grinding their way to China, day and night. Gas is flowing through an extensive network of pipelines, both east to China and west to friendly countries in Southern Europe. Mr. Putin and his men have succeeded in getting Russia fully functional. And the more Russians there are to spend money, so the more demand for goods and services: shops, etc., providing multiplying employment in Russia.

Mr. Putin wants to build a road and rail link south through Iran to India. A design plan is in the works. It is being discussed with Iran and India. Putin is displaying initiative for the benefit of Russia and its citizens. Putin cares for the citizens of Russia and is creating both wealth and jobs too. Architects are designing attractive living spaces and buildings which provide a better environment for Russians and contractors are building it. Education of Russian citizens is playing a big part in Mr. Putin’s thinking, too. Russia needs a talented workforce.

The result is that the currency, the Ruble is strong and does not devalue. It keeps its value.Belarus, Russia’s neighbour, can also be praised for outstanding development. The population in the big towns is cossetted with amenities and facilities which provides a luxurious way of life for townspeople especially those with industrial jobs. However, it must be admitted, the standard of life for the minority 30% population living in the countryside has yet to catch up. The administration is strict and everyone is law abiding. For example, you can leave your hand phone at your seat while you visit the toilet conveniences and it will remain undisturbed until you return.

Belarus, being a mostly agricultural country has a big tractor manufacturing plant, it has a fertiliser mining and producing plant, it has a commercial vehicle plant, DK MAZ which produces industrial trucks such as fire extinguishing trucks and also produces the most comfortable, bright, low step buses and so on, and of course, Belarus makes its own industrial vehicle tyres. The towns are prosperous and clean and Minsk, the capital is a beautifully laid out city. Town apartment blocks are multi-storied living spaces, but are so well designed and fitted as to provide pleasant living spaces for its people. These reduce urban sprawl across the wooded countryside.

What are Sri Lanka’s strengths? It is a small island thus making communications short and sweet. Its location in the Indian Ocean is a plus, its scenic beauty is a plus allowing a thriving tourist trade for people from colder climates, and its soil and climate allows almost anything to be grown. Therefore its agriculture is a great strength. Its long coastline can provide fish if the fisherised. It has deposits of graphite and phosphates which can be exploited to produce profits for further investment in development projects. It has its illiminite sands which are an extremely valuable asset but need to be controlled and exploitation expanded. It has a whole gem mining industry which need to be managed in way beneficial to the government. It has several government owned businesses which need to be overhauled and modernized to convert losses to profits. The rupee in 1948 was equal to the English pound, now it is around 450 rupees to the Pound. That gives a good description of Sri Lankan past governance.

Profits from projects need to be ploughed back into further projects to bring about a higher standard of living for all its inhabitants. Then the Lankan reputation of being a paradise island with happy people will be restored.

Priyantha Hettige

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Sapugaskanda: A huge challenge for RW

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It will be interesting to see if anything fruitful will come of the so-called “investigation” announced by the Minister-in-charge, about what seemed like an outrageous overtime payment to the petroleum refinery workers.While waiting for the outcome of that investigation, I thought of highlighting again the real and central issue that cuts across all loss-making government undertakings in Sri Lanka, such as the CPC, CEB, SriLankan Airlines, etc. that have been mercilessly sucking off tax-payer’s money into them like “blackholes”.

These organisations have been typically sustaining a mutual understanding with corrupt or inept politicians. “Sahana milata sewaya” (service at a concessionary price) was the catchphrase used by them to cover up all their numerous irregularities, wanton wastage, gravy trains, jobs for the boys and massive corruption, mostly with direct and indirect blessings of the politicians.

Here, I’d like to bring out just one example to help readers to get an idea of the enormity of this crisis built up over the past few decades. You’ll only have to look at what seemed like gross over-staffing levels of the CPC’s Sapugaskanda refinery, compared to international standards as shown below:

* Sapugaskanda Refinery – 50,000 Barrels Per Day (BPD); 1,100 employees Superior Refinery, Wisconsin, USA – 40,000 BPD; 180 employees

* Louisiana Refinery (including a fairly complex petrochemicals section), USA – 180,000 BPD; 600 employees

* Hovensa Refinery (now closed) – US Virgin Islands; 500,000 BPD; 2,100 employees.

These are hard facts available on the Internet for anyone to see, but I’m open to being corrected. I doubt if any sensible private investor would even dream of allowing such a level of gross over-staffing in their businesses.

As everyone knows, this is the position in all government business undertakings, as well as in most other government agencies in Sri Lanka. One can say that Sri Lankans have been willingly maintaining a crop of GOWUs (Govt Owned Welfare Undertakings), primarily for the benefit of the “hard-working” employees of these organisations, but at an unconscionably enormous cost to the rest. Obviously, this “party” couldn’t have gone forever!

Will Ranil be up to this challenge? I doubt very much.

UPULl P Auckland

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Opinion

Edward Gunawardena: ‘The IGP the country never had’

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On a seemingly fine Friday afternoon, day two of the England v India second Test of the LV Insurance Series (that turned out to be a day five thriller), oblivious to how his day would tragically pan out, our dad, retired Senior Deputy Inspector General (DIG) of Police, Edward Gunawardena, was glued to his television enjoying the contest between the two cricket giants. As time passed by that afternoon, he felt uncomfortable, weak and had minor discomfort in breathing. Our family doctor, Dr Lakshan Fernando, swiftly visited home and on strict instructions to bed rest, our dad enjoyed his chicken soup for dinner that was prepared by his beloved wife, our mum.

Later that night tragically he took the last breath of his life, and he completed the last heartbeat of his life in the presence of two of his most trusted people, our mum and our family doctor.

This day was that dreaded “Friday the Thirteenth” – in the month of August last year. Our tragedy was upon us.A year has passed, by but the loss is still deep rooted, although it was comforting that his passing was peaceful knowing that he had the assurance of having Dr Lakshan beside him, who in fact rushed him from our home to Central Hospital in Colombo that night in his own vehicle in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, ever so determined to save our dad’s life. It was a blessing to know that our dad had our mum and Dr Lakshan beside him as much as it was possible.

Edward Gunawardena had a successful journey starting his early years through St Joseph’s College, Colombo, Peradeniya University, Michigan State University, USA through sheer determination to succeed, despite him and his three brothers losing their mum when he was at a tender age of just four years. He served our country for nearly three decades in the Police Service in various capacities, including as the Director of Intelligence, Director of Presidential Security, DIG Metropolitan and Senior DIG Administration; and continued his services as the Special Advisor to the Chancellor at the University Grants Commission, Chairman of the National Lotteries Board and in the Board of Directors at the Lake House Newspapers Corporation.

Most would consider retirement in the ripe old age of sixties, but our dad was blessed to have joined JF&I Printing and Packaging Company, an international company with the head office close to our home. This enterprise was owned and led by renowned late Dr Neville Fernando and his son Neomal Fernando. Edward Gunawardena found his renewed passion and purpose of working with such a talented and committed group of colleagues, where he thrived in making a significant difference to a spectrum of many individuals with a common goal. There was a family atmosphere with abundance of gratitude whilst professionalism was being maintained. The feelings were mutual, and this was evident at a time when our dad was unwell and required a blood transfusion – seven of the junior colleagues at JF&I showed their willingness and donated their blood with heartfelt love and gratitude towards him. Knowing that such generosity and love existed in a working environment was a sincerely humble attitude. This is a true reflection of our dad’s character and personality of giving where reciprocation was demonstrated.

Patriotism and loyalty were two of his strengths. His dedication and professionalism in the Police Service were commendable. This was once clearly expressed by the late Professor Carlo Fonseka at the launch of our dad’s second novel “.. Edward was the IGP (Inspector General of Police) that the country never had”. A truly inspiring and a remarkable Officer and a Gentleman.

His generosity and care extended way beyond his professional arena. One of his many philanthropic contributions was the resurrection of the village Buddhist temple’s school ‘Daham Pasala’ with the support from the late Deshamanya H K Dharmadasa well known as ‘Nawaloka Mudalali’, the founder of the Nawaloka Group. Our extended family and many thousands of youth in the Battaramulla area have benefited and continue to imbibe the doctrine of Buddhism, thanks to the dedicated committee led by it’s Chief Monk, Jinarathana Himi.

As an enthusiastic writer and a passionate citizen, he wrote many thought provoking and fearless articles to the newspapers, which were very well received by the readers. He was not afraid to speak the truth and to stand up for those who did not have a voice, and he became a respected contributor maintaining honesty and integrity. One of his most poignant articles we recall was days after the tragic Easter Sunday bombings, titled “The Unpardonable Blunder” bravely challenging the chain of command and with deep sorrow on the devastating destruction, loss of lives and many innocent people maimed and scarred for their entire lives.

Today, we are relieved that he didn’t have to witness the dismal state of affairs our country is going through as a consequence of decades of poor leadership, mismanagement, and most of all, unprecedented levels of corruption in the recent era of respective governments.

As our dad, we are immensely proud of who he was, his achievements and most of all for how he has bettered many lives throughout his life, with his generosity, professionalism and willingness to help, advise, guide, nurture and mentor all with a selfless attitude. We believe that his legacy has been passed on through many who he has had close connections with. We are thankful that his writing legacy would also continue through his creations of the two novels “Blood and Cyanide” and “Memorable Tidbits…”.

Even until his last days and hours he was sharing his experience and wisdom with everyone around him, that was the calibre of the gentleman. His humble stories of meeting President Nixon at the Fulbright Scholar Dinner at the White House, meeting the 124th Emperor of Japan, Emperor Hirohito at the Akasaka Palace, and his conversations with the great Arthur C Clarke, will always be fondly remembered by us. One of the famous quotes that our dad hilariously shared was the quote from Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom about his political nemesis, the former and the predecessor Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone. “The difference between a misfortune and a calamity is this: if Gladstone fell into the Thames it would be a misfortune, but if someone dragged him out again that would be a calamity.”

Our dad was and will continue to be our hero and mentor. Today, we wish to extend our utmost appreciation to each and every one of you who had a close bond with him and made his life purposeful, joyful and complete. We thank them sincerely.

His last day of life was instrumental to the creation of the Edward Gunawardena Memorial Trust that is being organically grown, currently sponsoring medical students at the Rajarata University who are striving to become medical professionals, and as with Dr Lakshan, who was taking care of our dad, these students will have the opportunity to potentially treat and care for many deserving people and make their lives better, and also save many lives.

Whilst we take this opportunity to once again thank all those who were in his life,we would love to hear and treasure all the memories they shared with him. We welcome your recollections, your thoughts and your appreciations of Edward Gunawardena and please do send them via the email

My sister and I would value and appreciate the stories that you have had the pleasure of experiencing with him and of him.

With gratitude,
ERANGA

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