Sunday, October 5, 2014
Bombay in Madras
In the 19th century, when India was still a part of the British Empire, native - Indian - lives were considered 'sub-standard' by life insurance companies. The first insurance company in India, Oriental Life Insurance Company, established in 1818, was almost exclusively meant for European lives. With a lot of pressure being brought to bear on them, Oriental and the other insurance companies which started later began to insure Indians. But, no matter what their standing in society, Indians had to pay far higher premiums for their insurance.
The Bombay Mutual Life Assurance Society was set up in 1870 to combat this prejudice. In that sense, it was the first Indian insurance company. They did not distinguish between native and European lives and therefore managed to carve out a significant market share - apart from prudence, patriotism seemed to have played a major role in helping Bombay Mutual establish itself. In 1953 - the last year for which I have been able to find data for - Bombay Mutual had generated Rs.43,287,250/- worth of new business, with an average sum assured of Rs.2,571.
In 1956, the insurance business was nationalised. By then, Bombay Mutual had already established its presence in Madras, with its headquarters in George Town. Built in the Art Deco style, the building had come up on land that it had acquired from the Madras Christian College, which had by then moved to Tambaram. After insurance nationalisation, the building passed on to the Life Insurance Corporation. Together with its neighbours on NSC Bose Road, the Bombay Mutual Building blends well with its neighbours, showing off the Art Deco heritage of Chennai!