Japan’s SoftBank Eyes Taking Stake in India Insurance Startup: Sources

By and | January 25, 2018

SoftBank Group Corp. is in talks to back leading online insurance aggregator PolicyBazaar at a valuation of at least $800 million, according to people familiar with the matter.

The two sides are examining how the Japanese company can take a stake without pushing foreign investment in PolicyBazaar above 49 percent, the limit under India’s regulatory policies, said one of the people, asking not to be identified because the matter is private. The discussions are still fluid and may not result in a final agreement. The startup’s existing foreign investors, including Tiger Global Management and Temasek Holdings, hold about 48 percent of the startup. It was valued at $500 million in its last funding round, signed at the end of 2016 and finalized a year later.

Yashish Dahiya, PolicyBazaar’s chief executive officer and co-founder, declined to comment on any potential deal, explaining the company has not received any offer. “The [foreign direct investment] cap will not be a challenge as we have firm offers from domestic investors with ready capital who can balance out any foreign investment,” he said.

PolicyBazaar is part of a wave of upstarts seeking to challenge the dominance of banks and government insurers in India’s insurance market. E-commerce companies such as Flipkart Online Services Pvt are seeking to push their way in with their own insurance products. The government has kept tight control over the sector where local giants such as Tata Group and Aditya Birla Group exert wide influence.

India’s market potential is immense as the population is largely uninsured or under-insured. Insurance penetration was estimated to cross 4 percent in 2017 and the domestic market is projected to quadruple over the next 10 years from the current $60 billion, according to the government’s Brand Equity Foundation. Demographic factors like a young insurable population and growing middle class will propel the market, the Foundation said.

PolicyBazaar, based in Gurgaon near New Delhi, bills itself as a way for India’s expanding middle class to easily compare policies for life, health and motor insurance, and then choose the appropriate fit, without paying intermediaries.

SoftBank declined to comment. The investor is showing increased interest in the insurance sector and last month led a $120 million investment in the New York-based home insurance startup, Lemonade Inc.

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