I recently visited icici and HDFC bank for some personal work and some of the sales folks at these branches went into a sales pitch, pushing their respective unit linked plans. These unit linked plans are a combination of an Insurance policy and mutual funds. The key highlights of these plans are

 Highlights
–        An annual ‘premium’ payment towards the plan for around 15 years.
–        An option to pick from a range of 100% equity to 100% debt plans
–        If the primary holder passes away, the nominee get the insurance amount in addition to the accumulated value of the mutual fund component (varies by plan)
–        A max total insurance cover of around 12.5 lacs even if the annual premium exceeds 2.5 lacs
–        40% premium charge in year 1, 30% charge in year 2 and 2% thereafter.
–        A plethora of other charges some of which are not very clear unless you dig further such as mortality charge, admin charge etc
–        A 1.25%  fund management charge

Now these sales folks are well intentioned and all that. But frankly my initial feeling was that anything this complicated and convoluted cannot be very good. Lets look at some math

For ex : I invest 2.5 lacs per annum for 15 years in a 100% equity option. So around 1.75lacs are deducted in year 1 and 2 combined and around 5000 rs per annum thereafter. The rest would be invested in a mutual fund of choice.

 The insurance component
Lets look at the insurance component first. A pure risk policy (which is what the above is) is currently priced at around 4000-6000 p.a premium for a duration of 15 years. So clearly the insurance component is overpriced.

There is a bumper component which is paid at the end of the policy term which equates 70-80% of the premium. If you look at it in another way, this equals the 70% you pay upfront at the start of the policy.

So in a nutshell, the company is taking 70-80% of the annual premium from you and holding it interest free for 15 years. At an interest rate of around 9% per annum that is 3.6 times your annual premium !!

The 2% annual deduction would get you a similar pure risk policy with all the attendant benefits including tax deductions.

 Mutual fund component
 Lets look at the mutual funds component – Nothing special here. The company is taking 60% of your premium in yr 1, 70% in year 2 and 90% in yr 3 and onwards and investing it on your behalf for 15 years. At the end of 15 years, you redeem based on the NAV then.

What are the negatives here ?
–       For starters my money could be locked for 15 years – a big negative if the performance turns out to be poor.
–       The brochures, which I have seen show very average performance for all the concerned funds (most of them, barely beating the index before charges and actually underperforming the index after the fund management fees).
–       A plethora of charges I noted earlier, get deducted from the mutual fund component. There is not much clarity in the brochures on the quantum of total charges, but I don’t expect it be less than 1% of the total (maybe more).

 Conclusion
A pretty bad investment option. The insurance component is way overpriced !!. The mutual fund component has nothing special in it and has a load of charges attached to it, which will reduce your returns substantially in the long run. I will not be surprised if the banks are getting a hefty commission or good fee from these kind of plans.

My initial feel was that anything this convuluted and complex is a nice way for the bank or AMC to make good money off the fees and leave the investor with poor returns

Recommendations
Buy a low cost pure risk policy for the insurance cover. These policies do not pay anything if you survive ( A happy outcome !! as I have survived) and have a very low premium. For the mutual fund component invest in a low cost index fund or ETF or a decent mutual fund (if you can find one).

Finally, buy something nice for yourself or your spouse/friend with the money you save and send me a gift for saving you this money (just kidding !).

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