The Securities and Exchange Board of India and the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority allow for purchase of insurance and investment products by the visually impaired or disabled persons.
But companies are yet to tune themselves accordingly. For instance, even the basic requirement -- forms or documents that are Braille-supported -- are not available either for insurance or mutual fund-related products. No wonder, in times when mis-selling is rampant, the disabled are scared to invest or insure themselves without help from family members or friends.
Krishna Chokkhani, Mumbai-based insurance agent has sold quite a few policies to the visually impaired. "If the person doesn't have any relatives who can buy policy on his behalf, we use softwares that will read out the policy to him," he says. However, not too many visually impaired are comfortable buying products through this mode.
According to the Delhi Ophthalmological Society, India has about 7.8 million visually challenged people. That is a good 20 per cent of the 39 million visually challenged population across the globe. But the road to both insurance and investment for them is blocked.
Globally, the US, the Netherlands and South Africa have Braille-scripted insurance forms. Ashvin Parekh, partner, Ernst & Young, says, "The entire application may not be in Braille, but there is a standard letter in Braille format which states that the person (visually impaired) is buying this product with full understanding and is required to sign the same." This ensures that, before signing the form, the policy has been explained in detail to the buyer.
The regulators allow for such purchases. However, there is no way they can buy these products without any assistance. After so much has been talked about mis-selling by agents, it's difficult for this segment to completely rely on them.
LIC, Aviva and Bajaj Life offer insurance to the physically challenged. The forms here are neither in digital format nor in Braille. However, the insurers get a 'declarant' filled by the policyholder, which states that the policy has been understood and bought independently by him or her.
Fortunately, the visually impaired can use automated teller machines (ATMs). Banks like Union Bank of India have introduced talking ATMs. There are about 100 such ATMs today, where the card reader and the card slot both are Braille-supported. There is a growing awareness about the problems faced by the visually challenged. There are many trusts and foundations which fund their education and help them get jobs as well. According to Mercer's report on 'Diversity & Inclusion', 39 per cent organisations in India hire disabled people. After employment, ideally, there should be easy access for them to invest in financial instruments, too.
Rohit Bhuta, chief executive officer at Religare Macquaire Private Wealth, says, "In Australia, under the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act, the visually impaired have the right to request and receive information they require in a format of their choice. This includes bills/statements, product information from companies, banks or insurance companies, superannuation providers, newsletters and any government material." The regulators in India can also push companies to become friendlier towards the disabled.