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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Life insurers can invest in VC funds

The insurance regulator has opened the doors for life companies to invest in venture capital funds - a move that is likely to result in VC funds making a beeline for the Life Insurance Corporation of India which will have a headroom of close to Rs 30,000 crore to invest in such funds.

Until now life insurers were allowed to invest in VC funds but it was subject to the condition that the investment would be predominantly in infrastructure . Insurers say that this will create new investment opportunities for them. "This is a positive move as it opens up new avenues for investments.

Although for most private companies the size of the traditional portfolio is relatively small, it is growing steadily and should be sizeable going ahead" said Puneet Nanda, ED, ICICI Prudential Life Insurance. In a circular , IRDA said it had received a lot of queries from insurers on whether their investment were restricted only to infrastructure .

"The IRDA after inviting coments and concerns of insures clarifies that ...insurers may invest in any venture fund registered under Sebi Regulaion, which includes VC funds investing in small and medium enterprises," the circular said. IRDA has however barred insurers from investing in funds promoted within the group or by an investment manager, who is indirectly controlled or managed by the insurer or promoters. Insurers also say that this will give companies to participate in promising business at an early stage.

"Today most private companies go for a round of private equity or venture capital funding before they get listed. By the time they go for a listing, it is at a significant premium," said the investment head of a private life company. Incidentally , all Sebi regulated private equity funds are registered as venture capital funds. While IRDA has widened the scope of venture funds, it has retained the investment limits. Overall investment in VC funds will continue to be a part of the 'other investments' of a life company, which stands capped at 15% of the life fund. The maximum that a life company can invest in a venture fund would be 3% of the life fund size.

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