insurance

insurance

[in-shoor-uhns, -shur-]
insurance or assurance, device for indemnifying or guaranteeing an individual against loss. Reimbursement is made from a fund to which many individuals exposed to the same risk have contributed certain specified amounts, called premiums. Payment for an individual loss, divided among many, does not fall heavily upon the actual loser. The essence of the contract of insurance, called a policy, is mutuality. The major operations of an insurance company are underwriting, the determination of which risks the insurer can take on; and rate making, the decisions regarding necessary prices for such risks. The underwriter is responsible for guarding against adverse selection, wherein there is excessive coverage of high risk candidates in proportion to the coverage of low risk candidates. In preventing adverse selection, the underwriter must consider physical, psychological, and moral hazards in relation to applicants. Physical hazards include those dangers which surround the individual or property, jeopardizing the well-being of the insured. The amount of the premium is determined by the operation of the law of averages as calculated by actuaries. By investing premium payments in a wide range of revenue-producing projects, insurance companies have become major suppliers of capital, and they rank among the nation's largest institutional investors.

Common Types of Insurance

Life insurance, originally conceived to protect a man's family when his death left them without income, has developed into a variety of policy plans. In a "whole life" policy, fixed premiums are paid throughout the insured's lifetime; this accumulated amount, augmented by compound interest, is paid to a beneficiary in a lump sum upon the insured's death; the benefit is paid even if the insured had terminated the policy. Under "universal life," the insured can vary the amount and timing of the premiums; the funds compound to create the death benefit. With "variable life," the fixed premiums are invested in a portfolio (with earning reinvested), and the death benefit is based on the performance of the investment. In "term life," coverage is for a specified time period (e.g., 5-10 years); such plans do not build up value during the term. Annuity policies, which pay the insured a yearly income after a certain age, have also been developed. In the 1990s, life insurance companies began to allow early payouts to terminally ill patients.

Fire insurance usually includes damage from lightning; other insurance against the elements includes hail, tornado, flood, and drought. Complete automobile insurance includes not only insurance against fire and theft but also compensation for damage to the car and for personal injury to the victim of an accident (liability insurance); many car owners, however, carry only partial insurance. In many states liability insurance is compulsory, and a number of states have instituted so-called no-fault insurance plans, whereby automobile accident victims receive compensation without having to initiate a liability lawsuit, except in special cases. Bonding, or fidelity insurance, is designed to protect an employer against dishonesty or default on the part of an employee. Title insurance is aimed at protecting purchasers of real estate from loss by reason of defective title. Credit insurance safeguards businesses against loss from the failure of customers to meet their obligations. Marine insurance protects shipping companies against the loss of a ship or its cargo, as well as many other items, and so-called inland marine insurance covers a vast miscellany of items, including tourist baggage, express and parcel-post packages, truck cargoes, goods in transit, and even bridges and tunnels. In recent years, the insurance industry has broadened to guard against almost any conceivable risk; companies like Lloyd's will insure a dancer's legs, a pianist's fingers, or an outdoor event against loss from rain on a specified day.

See also health insurance; social welfare; workers' compensation.

The History of Insurance

The roots of insurance might be traced to Babylonia, where traders were encouraged to assume the risks of the caravan trade through loans that were repaid (with interest) only after the goods had arrived safely—a practice resembling bottomry and given legal force in the Code of Hammurabi (c.2100 B.C.). The Phoenicians and the Greeks applied a similar system to their seaborne commerce. The Romans used burial clubs as a form of life insurance, providing funeral expenses for members and later payments to the survivors.

With the growth of towns and trade in Europe, the medieval guilds undertook to protect their members from loss by fire and shipwreck, to ransom them from captivity by pirates, and to provide decent burial and support in sickness and poverty. By the middle of the 14th cent., as evidenced by the earliest known insurance contract (Genoa, 1347), marine insurance was practically universal among the maritime nations of Europe. In London, Lloyd's Coffee House (1688) was a place where merchants, shipowners, and underwriters met to transact business. By the end of the 18th cent. Lloyd's had progressed into one of the first modern insurance companies. In 1693 the astronomer Edmond Halley constructed the first mortality table, based on the statistical laws of mortality and compound interest. The table, corrected (1756) by Joseph Dodson, made it possible to scale the premium rate to age; previously the rate had been the same for all ages.

Insurance developed rapidly with the growth of British commerce in the 17th and 18th cent. Prior to the formation of corporations devoted solely to the business of writing insurance, policies were signed by a number of individuals, each of whom wrote his name and the amount of risk he was assuming underneath the insurance proposal, hence the term underwriter. The first stock companies to engage in insurance were chartered in England in 1720, and in 1735, the first insurance company in the American colonies was founded at Charleston, S.C. Fire insurance corporations were formed in New York City (1787) and in Philadelphia (1794). The Presbyterian Synod of Philadelphia sponsored (1759) the first life insurance corporation in America, for the benefit of Presbyterian ministers and their dependents. After 1840, with the decline of religious prejudice against the practice, life insurance entered a boom period. In the 1830s the practice of classifying risks was begun.

The New York fire of 1835 called attention to the need for adequate reserves to meet unexpectedly large losses; Massachusetts was the first state to require companies by law (1837) to maintain such reserves. The great Chicago fire (1871) emphasized the costly nature of fires in structurally dense modern cities. Reinsurance, whereby losses are distributed among many companies, was devised to meet such situations and is now common in other lines of insurance. The Workmen's Compensation Act of 1897 in Britain required employers to insure their employees against industrial accidents. Public liability insurance, fostered by legislation, made its appearance in the 1880s; it attained major importance with the advent of the automobile.

In the 19th cent. many friendly or benefit societies were founded to insure the life and health of their members, and many fraternal orders were created to provide low-cost, members-only insurance. Fraternal orders continue to provide insurance coverage, as do most labor organizations. Many employers sponsor group insurance policies for their employees; such policies generally include not only life insurance, but sickness and accident benefits and old-age pensions, and the employees usually contribute a certain percentage of the premium.

Since the late 19th cent. there has been a growing tendency for the state to enter the field of insurance, especially with respect to safeguarding workers against sickness and disability, either temporary or permanent, destitute old age, and unemployment (see social security). The U.S. government has also experimented with various types of crop insurance, a landmark in this field being the Federal Crop Insurance Act of 1938. In World War II the government provided life insurance for members of the armed forces; since then it has provided other forms of insurance such as pensions for veterans and for government employees.

After 1944 the supervision and regulation of insurance companies, previously an exclusive responsibility of the states, became subject to regulation by Congress under the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution. Until the 1950s, most insurance companies in the United States were restricted to providing only one type of insurance, but then legislation was passed to permit fire and casualty companies to underwrite several classes of insurance. Many firms have since expanded, many mergers have occurred, and multiple-line companies now dominate the field. In 1999, Congress repealed banking laws that had prohibited commercial banks from being in the insurance business; this measure was expected to result in expansion by major banks into the insurance arena.

In recent years insurance premiums (particularly for liability policies) have increased rapidly, leaving unprecedented numbers of Americans uninsured. Many blame the insurance conglomerates, contending that U.S. citizens are paying for bad risks made by the companies. Insurance companies place the burden of guilt on law firms and their clients, who they say have brought unreasonably large civil suits to court, a trend that has become so common in the United States that legislation has been proposed to limit lawsuit awards. Catastrophic earthquakes, hurricanes, and wildfires in late 1980s and the 90s have also strained many insurance company's reserves.

Bibliography

See R. I. Mehr, Principles of Insurance (1985); E. J. Vaughn, Fundamentals of Risk and Insurance (1986).

Form of social insurance designed to compensate workers for short-term, involuntary unemployment. It was created primarily to provide financial assistance to laid-off workers during a period deemed long enough to allow them to find another job or to be rehired at their original job. In most countries, workers who are permanently disabled or who have been unemployed for a long period of time are covered under other plans. In countries such as Canada and Britain, workers in any occupation may qualify for unemployment insurance; the U.S. denies coverage to certain workers, such as government employees and the self-employed. In most countries, benefits are related to earnings and are paid for a limited period of time. Funding may come out of general government revenues or from specific taxes placed on employers or employees.

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Compulsory public-insurance program that protects against various economic risks (e.g., loss of income due to sickness, old age, or unemployment). Social insurance is considered one type of social security, though the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably. The first compulsory national social-insurance programs were established in Germany under Otto von Bismarck: health insurance in 1883, workers' compensation in 1884, and old-age and disability pensions in 1889. Austria and Hungary soon followed Germany's example. After 1920, social insurance was rapidly adopted throughout Europe and the Western Hemisphere. The U.S. lagged behind until the passage of the Social Security Act in 1935. Social Security in the U.S. now provides retirement benefits, health care for persons over a specific minimum age, and disability insurance. Social-insurance contributions are normally compulsory and may be made by the insured person's employer and the state as well as by the individual. Social insurance is usually self-financing, with contributions being placed in specific funds for that purpose. Seealso unemployment insurance; welfare.

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Method by which large groups of individuals equalize the burden of financial loss from death by distributing funds to the beneficiaries of those who die. Life insurance is most developed in wealthy countries, where it has become a major channel of saving and investing. There are three basic types of life-insurance contract. Term insurance is issued for a specified number of years; protection expires at the end of the period and there is no cash value remaining. Whole-life contracts run for the whole of the insured's life and also accumulate a cash value, which is paid when the contract matures or is surrendered; the cash value is less than the policy's face value. Endowment contracts run for a specified time period and pay their full face value at the end of the period.

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Insurance against claims of loss or damage for which a policyholder might have to compensate another party. The policy covers losses resulting from acts or omissions that are legally deemed to be negligent and that result in damage to the person, property, or legitimate interests of others. It was principally the introduction of the automobile that spurred the rapid growth of this form of insurance, which now extends to a great many activities in addition to driving, including malpractice insurance for doctors and other professionals, marine liability for boat owners and operators, and product liability for manufacturers of consumer goods. Seealso casualty insurance, consumer protection.

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Contract that, by redistributing risk among a large number of people, reduces losses from accidents incurred by an individual. In return for a specified payment (premium), the insurer undertakes to pay the insured or his beneficiary a specified amount of money in the event that the insured suffers loss through the occurrence of an event covered by the insurance contract (policy). By pooling both the financial contributions and the risks of a large number of policyholders, the insurer is able to absorb losses much more easily than is the uninsured individual. Insurers may offer insurance to any individual able to pay, or they may contract with members of a group (e.g., employees of a firm) to offer special rates for group insurance. Marine insurance, covering ships and voyages, is the oldest form of insurance; it originated in ancient times with loans to shipowners that were repayable only on safe completion of a voyage, and it was formalized in medieval Europe. Fire insurance arose in the 17th century, and other forms of property insurance became common with the spread of industrialization in the 19th century. It is now possible to insure almost any kind of property, including homes, businesses, motor vehicles, and goods in transit. Seealso casualty insurance; health insurance; liability insurance; life insurance.

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System for the advance financing of medical expenses through contributions or taxes paid into a common fund to pay for all or part of health services specified in an insurance policy or law. The key elements are advance payment of premiums or taxes, pooling of funds, and eligibility for benefits on the basis of contributions or employment without an income or assets test. Health insurance may apply to a limited or comprehensive range of medical services and may provide for full or partial payment of the costs of specific services. Benefits may consist of the right to certain medical services or reimbursement of the insured for specified medical costs. Private health insurance is organized and administered by an insurance company or other private agency; public health insurance is run by the government (see social insurance). Both forms of health insurance are to be distinguished from socialized medicine and government medical-care programs, in which doctors are employed directly or indirectly by the goverment, which also owns the health-care facilities (e.g., Britain's National Health Service). Seealso insurance.

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Provision against loss to persons and property, covering legal hazards as well as those of accident and sickness. Major classes include liability, theft, aviation, workers' compensation, credit, and h1. Liability insurance contracts may cover liability arising from use of an automobile, operation of a business, professional negligence (malpractice insurance), or property ownership. Credit insurance may cover the risk of bad debts from insolvency, death, and disability, the risk of loss of savings from bank failure, and the risk of loss of export credit due to commercial or political changes.

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Independent U.S. government corporation created to insure bank deposits against loss in the event of a bank failure and to regulate certain banking practices. Established after the bank holiday in early 1933, the FDIC was intended to restore public confidence in the system. It insures bank deposits in eligible banks up to $100,000 for each deposit. All members of the Federal Reserve System are required to insure their deposits with the FDIC, and almost all commercial banks in the U.S. choose to do so.

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Insurance, in law and economics, is a form of risk management primarily used to hedge against the risk of a contingent loss. Insurance is defined as the equitable transfer of the risk of a loss, from one entity to another, in exchange for a premium, and can be thought of a guaranteed small loss to prevent a large, possibly devastating large loss. An insurer is a company selling the insurance. The insurance rate is a factor used to determine the amount, called the premium, to be charged for a certain amount of insurance coverage. Risk management, the practice of appraising and controlling risk, has evolved as a discrete field of study and practice.

Principles of insurance

Commercially insurable risks typically share seven common characteristics.

  1. A large number of homogeneous exposure units. The vast majority of insurance policies are provided for individual members of very large classes. Automobile insurance, for example, covered about 175 million automobiles in the United States in 2004. The existence of a large number of homogeneous exposure units allows insurers to benefit from the so-called “law of large numbers,” which in effect states that as the number of exposure units increases, the actual results are increasingly likely to become close to expected results. There are exceptions to this criterion. Lloyd's of London is famous for insuring the life or health of actors, actresses and sports figures. Satellite Launch insurance covers events that are infrequent. Large commercial property policies may insure exceptional properties for which there are no ‘homogeneous’ exposure units. Despite failing on this criterion, many exposures like these are generally considered to be insurable.
  2. Definite Loss. The event that gives rise to the loss that is subject to insurance should, at least in principle, take place at a known time, in a known place, and from a known cause. The classic example is death of an insured person on a life insurance policy. Fire, automobile accidents, and worker injuries may all easily meet this criterion. Other types of losses may only be definite in theory. Occupational disease, for instance, may involve prolonged exposure to injurious conditions where no specific time, place or cause is identifiable. Ideally, the time, place and cause of a loss should be clear enough that a reasonable person, with sufficient information, could objectively verify all three elements.
  3. Accidental Loss. The event that constitutes the trigger of a claim should be fortuitous, or at least outside the control of the beneficiary of the insurance. The loss should be ‘pure,’ in the sense that it results from an event for which there is only the opportunity for cost. Events that contain speculative elements, such as ordinary business risks, are generally not considered insurable.
  4. Large Loss. The size of the loss must be meaningful from the perspective of the insured. Insurance premiums need to cover both the expected cost of losses, plus the cost of issuing and administering the policy, adjusting losses, and supplying the capital needed to reasonably assure that the insurer will be able to pay claims. For small losses these latter costs may be several times the size of the expected cost of losses. There is little point in paying such costs unless the protection offered has real value to a buyer.
  5. Affordable Premium. If the likelihood of an insured event is so high, or the cost of the event so large, that the resulting premium is large relative to the amount of protection offered, it is not likely that anyone will buy insurance, even if on offer. Further, as the accounting profession formally recognizes in financial accounting standards, the premium cannot be so large that there is not a reasonable chance of a significant loss to the insurer. If there is no such chance of loss, the transaction may have the form of insurance, but not the substance. (See the U.S. Financial Accounting Standards Board standard number 113)
  6. Calculable Loss. There are two elements that must be at least estimable, if not formally calculable: the probability of loss, and the attendant cost. Probability of loss is generally an empirical exercise, while cost has more to do with the ability of a reasonable person in possession of a copy of the insurance policy and a proof of loss associated with a claim presented under that policy to make a reasonably definite and objective evaluation of the amount of the loss recoverable as a result of the claim.
  7. Limited risk of catastrophically large losses. The essential risk is often aggregation. If the same event can cause losses to numerous policyholders of the same insurer, the ability of that insurer to issue policies becomes constrained, not by factors surrounding the individual characteristics of a given policyholder, but by the factors surrounding the sum of all policyholders so exposed. Typically, insurers prefer to limit their exposure to a loss from a single event to some small portion of their capital base, on the order of 5 percent. Where the loss can be aggregated, or an individual policy could produce exceptionally large claims, the capital constraint will restrict an insurer's appetite for additional policyholders. The classic example is earthquake insurance, where the ability of an underwriter to issue a new policy depends on the number and size of the policies that it has already underwritten. Wind insurance in hurricane zones, particularly along coast lines, is another example of this phenomenon. In extreme cases, the aggregation can affect the entire industry, since the combined capital of insurers and reinsurers can be small compared to the needs of potential policyholders in areas exposed to aggregation risk. In commercial fire insurance it is possible to find single properties whose total exposed value is well in excess of any individual insurer’s capital constraint. Such properties are generally shared among several insurers, or are insured by a single insurer who syndicates the risk into the reinsurance market.

Indemnification

The technical definition of "indemnity" means to make whole again. There are two types of insurance contracts; 1) an "indemnity" policy and 2) a "pay on behalf" or "on behalf of policy. The difference is significant on paper, but rarely material in practice.

An "indemnity" policy will never pay claims until the insured has paid out of pocket to some third party; for example, a visitor to your home slips on a floor that you left wet and sues you for $10,000 and wins. Under an "indemnity" policy the homeowner would have to come up with the $10,000 to pay for the visitor's fall and then would be "indemnified" by the insurance carrier for the out of pocket costs (the $10,000).

Under the same situation, a "pay on behalf" policy, the insurance carrier would pay the claim and the insured (the homeowner) would not be out of pocket for anything. Most modern liability insurance is written on the basis of "pay on behalf" language.

An entity seeking to transfer risk (an individual, corporation, or association of any type, etc.) becomes the 'insured' party once risk is assumed by an 'insurer', the insuring party, by means of a contract, called an insurance 'policy'. Generally, an insurance contract includes, at a minimum, the following elements: the parties (the insurer, the insured, the beneficiaries), the premium, the period of coverage, the particular loss event covered, the amount of coverage (i.e., the amount to be paid to the insured or beneficiary in the event of a loss), and exclusions (events not covered). An insured is thus said to be "indemnified" against the loss events covered in the policy.

When insured parties experience a loss for a specified peril, the coverage entitles the policyholder to make a 'claim' against the insurer for the covered amount of loss as specified by the policy. The fee paid by the insured to the insurer for assuming the risk is called the 'premium'. Insurance premiums from many insureds are used to fund accounts reserved for later payment of claims—in theory for a relatively few claimants—and for overhead costs. So long as an insurer maintains adequate funds set aside for anticipated losses (i.e., reserves), the remaining margin is an insurer's profit.

Insurers' business model

Profit = earned premium + investment income - incurred loss - underwriting expenses.

Insurers make money in two ways: (1) through underwriting, the process by which insurers select the risks to insure and decide how much in premiums to charge for accepting those risks and (2) by investing the premiums they collect from insured parties.

The most complicated aspect of the insurance business is the underwriting of policies. Using a wide assortment of data, insurers predict the likelihood that a claim will be made against their policies and price products accordingly. To this end, insurers use actuarial science to quantify the risks they are willing to assume and the premium they will charge to assume them. Data is analyzed to fairly accurately project the rate of future claims based on a given risk. Actuarial science uses statistics and probability to analyze the risks associated with the range of perils covered, and these scientific principles are used to determine an insurer's overall exposure. Upon termination of a given policy, the amount of premium collected and the investment gains thereon minus the amount paid out in claims is the insurer's underwriting profit on that policy. Of course, from the insurer's perspective, some policies are winners (i.e., the insurer pays out less in claims and expenses than it receives in premiums and investment income) and some are losers (i.e., the insurer pays out more in claims and expenses than it receives in premiums and investment income).

An insurer's underwriting performance is measured in its combined ratio. The loss ratio (incurred losses and loss-adjustment expenses divided by net earned premium) is added to the expense ratio (underwriting expenses divided by net premium written) to determine the company's combined ratio. The combined ratio is a reflection of the company's overall underwriting profitability. A combined ratio of less than 100 percent indicates underwriting profitability, while anything over 100 indicates an underwriting loss.

Insurance companies also earn investment profits on “float”. “Float” or available reserve is the amount of money, at hand at any given moment, that an insurer has collected in insurance premiums but has not been paid out in claims. Insurers start investing insurance premiums as soon as they are collected and continue to earn interest on them until claims are paid out.

In the United States, the underwriting loss of property and casualty insurance companies was $142.3 billion in the five years ending 2003. But overall profit for the same period was $68.4 billion, as the result of float. Some insurance industry insiders, most notably Hank Greenberg, do not believe that it is forever possible to sustain a profit from float without an underwriting profit as well, but this opinion is not universally held. Naturally, the “float” method is difficult to carry out in an economically depressed period. Bear markets do cause insurers to shift away from investments and to toughen up their underwriting standards. So a poor economy generally means high insurance premiums. This tendency to swing between profitable and unprofitable periods over time is commonly known as the "underwriting" or insurance cycle.

Property and casualty insurers currently make the most money from their auto insurance line of business. Generally better statistics are available on auto losses and underwriting on this line of business has benefited greatly from advances in computing. Additionally, property losses in the US, due to natural catastrophes, have exacerbated this trend.

Finally, claims and loss handling is the materialized utility of insurance. In managing the claims-handling function, insurers seek to balance the elements of customer satisfaction, administrative handling expenses, and claims overpayment leakages. As part of this balancing act, fraudulent insurance practices are a major business risk that must be managed and overcome.

History of insurance

In some sense we can say that insurance appears simultaneously with the appearance of human society. We know of two types of economies in human societies: money economies (with markets, money, financial instruments and so on) and non-money or natural economies (without money, markets, financial instruments and so on). The second type is a more ancient form than the first. In such an economy and community, we can see insurance in the form of people helping each other. For example, if a house burns down, the members of the community help build a new one. Should the same thing happen to one's neighbour, the other neighbours must help. Otherwise, neighbours will not receive help in the future. This type of insurance has survived to the present day in some countries where modern money economy with its financial instruments is not widespread (for example countries in the territory of the former Soviet Union).

Turning to insurance in the modern sense (i.e., insurance in a modern money economy, in which insurance is part of the financial sphere), early methods of transferring or distributing risk were practised by Chinese and Babylonian traders as long ago as the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC, respectively. Chinese merchants travelling treacherous river rapids would redistribute their wares across many vessels to limit the loss due to any single vessel's capsizing. The Babylonians developed a system which was recorded in the famous Code of Hammurabi, c. 1750 BC, and practised by early Mediterranean sailing merchants. If a merchant received a loan to fund his shipment, he would pay the lender an additional sum in exchange for the lender's guarantee to cancel the loan should the shipment be stolen. Achaemenian monarchs of Iran were the first to insure their people and made it official by registering the insuring process in governmental notary offices. The insurance tradition was performed each year in Norouz (beginning of the Iranian New Year); the heads of different ethnic groups as well as others willing to take part, presented gifts to the monarch. The most important gift was presented during a special ceremony. When a gift was worth more than 10,000 Derrik (Achaemenian gold coin) the issue was registered in a special office. This was advantageous to those who presented such special gifts. For others, the presents were fairly assessed by the confidants of the court. Then the assessment was registered in special offices.

The purpose of registering was that whenever the person who presented the gift registered by the court was in trouble, the monarch and the court would help him. Jahez, a historian and writer, writes in one of his books on ancient Iran: "[W]henever the owner of the present is in trouble or wants to construct a building, set up a feast, have his children married, etc. the one in charge of this in the court would check the registration. If the registered amount exceeded 10,000 Derrik, he or she would receive an amount of twice as much."

A thousand years later, the inhabitants of Rhodes invented the concept of the 'general average'. Merchants whose goods were being shipped together would pay a proportionally divided premium which would be used to reimburse any merchant whose goods were jettisoned during storm or sinkage.

The Greeks and Romans introduced the origins of health and life insurance c. 600 AD when they organized guilds called "benevolent societies" which cared for the families and paid funeral expenses of members upon death. Guilds in the Middle Ages served a similar purpose. The Talmud deals with several aspects of insuring goods. Before insurance was established in the late 17th century, "friendly societies" existed in England, in which people donated amounts of money to a general sum that could be used for emergencies.

Separate insurance contracts (i.e., insurance policies not bundled with loans or other kinds of contracts) were invented in Genoa in the 14th century, as were insurance pools backed by pledges of landed estates. These new insurance contracts allowed insurance to be separated from investment, a separation of roles that first proved useful in marine insurance. Insurance became far more sophisticated in post-Renaissance Europe, and specialized varieties developed.

Toward the end of the seventeenth century, London's growing importance as a centre for trade increased demand for marine insurance. In the late 1680s, Edward Lloyd opened a coffee house that became a popular haunt of ship owners, merchants, and ships’ captains, and thereby a reliable source of the latest shipping news. It became the meeting place for parties wishing to insure cargoes and ships, and those willing to underwrite such ventures. Today, Lloyd's of London remains the leading market (note that it is not an insurance company) for marine and other specialist types of insurance, but it works rather differently than the more familiar kinds of insurance.

Insurance as we know it today can be traced to the Great Fire of London, which in 1666 devoured 13,200 houses. In the aftermath of this disaster, Nicholas Barbon opened an office to insure buildings. In 1680, he established England's first fire insurance company, "The Fire Office," to insure brick and frame homes.

The first insurance company in the United States underwrote fire insurance and was formed in Charles Town (modern-day Charleston), South Carolina, in 1732. Benjamin Franklin helped to popularize and make standard the practice of insurance, particularly against fire in the form of perpetual insurance. In 1752, he founded the Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss by Fire Franklin's company was the first to make contributions toward fire prevention. Not only did his company warn against certain fire hazards, it refused to insure certain buildings where the risk of fire was too great, such as all wooden houses. In the United States, regulation of the insurance industry is highly Balkanized, with primary responsibility assumed by individual state insurance departments. Whereas insurance markets have become centralized nationally and internationally, state insurance commissioners operate individually, though at times in concert through a national insurance commissioners' organization. In recent years, some have called for a dual state and federal regulatory system (commonly referred to as the Optional Federal Charter (OFC)) for insurance similar to that which oversees state banks and national banks.

Types of insurance

Any risk that can be quantified can potentially be insured. Specific kinds of risk that may give rise to claims are known as "perils". An insurance policy will set out in detail which perils are covered by the policy and which are not. Below are (non-exhaustive) lists of the many different types of insurance that exist. A single policy may cover risks in one or more of the categories set out below. For example, auto insurance would typically cover both property risk (covering the risk of theft or damage to the car) and liability risk (covering legal claims from causing an accident). A homeowner's insurance policy in the U.S. typically includes property insurance covering damage to the home and the owner's belongings, liability insurance covering certain legal claims against the owner, and even a small amount of coverage for medical expenses of guests who are injured on the owner's property.

Business insurance can be any kind of insurance that protects businesses against risks. Some principal subtypes of business insurance are (a) the various kinds of professional liability insurance, also called professional indemnity insurance, which are discussed below under that name; and (b) the business owner's policy (BOP), which bundles into one policy many of the kinds of coverage that a business owner needs, in a way analogous to how homeowners insurance bundles the coverages that a homeowner needs.

Health

Health insurance policies by the National Health Service in the United Kingdom (NHS) or other publicly-funded health programs will cover the cost of medical treatments. Dental insurance, like medical insurance, is coverage for individuals to protect them against dental costs. In the U.S., dental insurance is often part of an employer's benefits package, along with health insurance. Most countries rely on public funding to ensure that all citizens have universal access to health care.

Disability

  • Disability insurance policies provide financial support in the event the policyholder is unable to work because of disabling illness or injury. It provides monthly support to help pay such obligations as mortgages and credit cards.
  • Total permanent disability insurance provides benefits when a person is permanently disabled and can no longer work in their profession, often taken as an adjunct to life insurance.
  • Disability overhead insurance allows business owners to cover the overhead expenses of their business while they are unable to work.
  • Workers' compensation insurance replaces all or part of a worker's wages lost and accompanying medical expenses incurred because of a job-related injury.

Casualty

Casualty insurance insures against accidents, not necessarily tied to any specific property.

  • Crime insurance is a form of casualty insurance that covers the policyholder against losses arising from the criminal acts of third parties. For example, a company can obtain crime insurance to cover losses arising from theft or embezzlement.
  • Political risk insurance is a form of casualty insurance that can be taken out by businesses with operations in countries in which there is a risk that revolution or other political conditions will result in a loss.

Life

Life insurance provides a monetary benefit to a descedent's family or other designated beneficiary, and may specifically provide for income to an insured person's family, burial, funeral and other final expenses. Life insurance policies often allow the option of having the proceeds paid to the beneficiary either in a lump sum cash payment or an annuity.

Annuities provide a stream of payments and are generally classified as insurance because they are issued by insurance companies and regulated as insurance and require the same kinds of actuarial and investment management expertise that life insurance requires. Annuities and pensions that pay a benefit for life are sometimes regarded as insurance against the possibility that a retiree will outlive his or her financial resources. In that sense, they are the complement of life insurance and, from an underwriting perspective, are the mirror image of life insurance.

Certain life insurance contracts accumulate cash values, which may be taken by the insured if the policy is surrendered or which may be borrowed against. Some policies, such as annuities and endowment policies, are financial instruments to accumulate or liquidate wealth when it is needed.

In many countries, such as the U.S. and the UK, the tax law provides that the interest on this cash value is not taxable under certain circumstances. This leads to widespread use of life insurance as a tax-efficient method of saving as well as protection in the event of early death.

In U.S., the tax on interest income on life insurance policies and annuities is generally deferred. However, in some cases the benefit derived from tax deferral may be offset by a low return. This depends upon the insuring company, the type of policy and other variables (mortality, market return, etc.). Moreover, other income tax saving vehicles (e.g., IRAs, 401(k) plans, Roth IRAs) may be better alternatives for value accumulation. A combination of low-cost term life insurance and a higher-return tax-efficient retirement account may achieve better investment return.

Property

Property insurance provides protection against risks to property, such as fire, theft or weather damage. This includes specialized forms of insurance such as fire insurance, flood insurance, earthquake insurance, home insurance, inland marine insurance or boiler insurance.

  • Automobile insurance, known in the UK as motor insurance, is probably the most common form of insurance and may cover both legal liability claims against the driver and loss of or damage to the insured's vehicle itself. Throughout the United States an auto insurance policy is required to legally operate a motor vehicle on public roads. In some jurisdictions, bodily injury compensation for automobile accident victims has been changed to a no-fault system, which reduces or eliminates the ability to sue for compensation but provides automatic eligibility for benefits. Credit card companies insure against damage on rented cars.
    • Driving School Insurance insurance provides cover for any authorized driver whilst undergoing tuition, cover also unlike other motor policies provides cover for instructor liability where both the pupil and driving instructor are equally liable in the event of a claim.
  • Aviation insurance insures against hull, spares, deductibles, hull wear and liability risks.
  • Boiler insurance (also known as boiler and machinery insurance or equipment breakdown insurance) insures against accidental physical damage to equipment or machinery.
  • Builder's risk insurance insures against the risk of physical loss or damage to property during construction. Builder's risk insurance is typically written on an "all risk" basis covering damage due to any cause (including the negligence of the insured) not otherwise expressly excluded.
  • Crop insurance "Farmers use crop insurance to reduce or manage various risks associated with growing crops. Such risks include crop loss or damage caused by weather, hail, drought, frost damage, insects, or disease, for instance.
  • Earthquake insurance is a form of property insurance that pays the policyholder in the event of an earthquake that causes damage to the property. Most ordinary homeowners insurance policies do not cover earthquake damage. Most earthquake insurance policies feature a high deductible. Rates depend on location and the probability of an earthquake, as well as the construction of the home.
  • A fidelity bond is a form of casualty insurance that covers policyholders for losses that they incur as a result of fraudulent acts by specified individuals. It usually insures a business for losses caused by the dishonest acts of its employees.
  • Flood insurance protects against property loss due to flooding. Many insurers in the US do not provide flood insurance in some portions of the country. In response to this, the federal government created the National Flood Insurance Program which serves as the insurer of last resort.
  • Home insurance or homeowners' insurance: See "Property insurance".
  • Marine insurance and marine cargo insurance cover the loss or damage of ships at sea or on inland waterways, and of the cargo that may be on them. When the owner of the cargo and the carrier are separate corporations, marine cargo insurance typically compensates the owner of cargo for losses sustained from fire, shipwreck, etc., but excludes losses that can be recovered from the carrier or the carrier's insurance. Many marine insurance underwriters will include "time element" coverage in such policies, which extends the indemnity to cover loss of profit and other business expenses attributable to the delay caused by a covered loss.
  • Surety bond insurance is a three party insurance guaranteeing the performance of the principal.
  • Terrorism insurance provides protection against any loss or damage caused by terrorist activities.
  • Volcano insurance is an insurance that covers volcano damage in Hawaii.
  • Windstorm insurance is an insurance covering the damage that can be caused by hurricanes and tropical cyclones.

Liability

Liability insurance is a very broad superset that covers legal claims against the insured. Many types of insurance include an aspect of liability coverage. For example, a homeowner's insurance policy will normally include liability coverage which protects the insured in the event of a claim brought by someone who slips and falls on the property; automobile insurance also includes an aspect of liability insurance that indemnifies against the harm that a crashing car can cause to others' lives, health, or property. The protection offered by a liability insurance policy is twofold: a legal defense in the event of a lawsuit commenced against the policyholder and indemnification (payment on behalf of the insured) with respect to a settlement or court verdict. Liability policies typically cover only the negligence of the insured, and will not apply to results of wilful or intentional acts by the insured.

  • Environmental liability insurance protects the insured from bodily injury, property damage and cleanup costs as a result of the dispersal, release or escape of pollutants.
  • Errors and omissions insurance: See "Professional liability insurance" under "Liability insurance".
  • Professional liability insurance, also called professional indemnity insurance, protects insured professionals such as architectural corporation and medical practice against potential negligence claims made by their patients/clients. Professional liability insurance may take on different names depending on the profession. For example, professional liability insurance in reference to the medical profession may be called malpractice insurance. Notaries public may take out errors and omissions insurance (E&O). Other potential E&O policyholders include, for example, real estate brokers, home inspectors, appraisers, and website developers.
  • Directors and officers liability insurance protects an organization (usually a corporation) from costs associated with litigation resulting from mistakes made by directors and officers for which they are liable. In the industry, it is usually called "D&O" for short.
  • Prize indemnity insurance protects the insured from giving away a large prize at a specific event. Examples would include offering prizes to contestants who can make a half-court shot at a basketball game, or a hole-in-one at a golf tournament.

Credit

Credit insurance repays some or all of a loan when certain things happen to the borrower such as unemployment, disability, or death.

  • Mortgage insurance insures the lender against default by the borrower. Mortgage insurance is a form of credit insurance, although the name credit insurance more often is used to refer to policies that cover other kinds of debt.

Other types

  • Collateral protection insurance or CPI, insures property (primarily vehicles) held as collateral for loans made by lending institutions.
  • Defense Base Act Workers' compensation or DBA Insurance provides coverage for civilian workers hired by the government to perform contracts outside the US and Canada. DBA is required for all US citizens, US residents, US Green Card holders, and all employees or subcontractors hired on overseas government contracts. Depending on the country, Foreign Nationals must also be covered under DBA. This coverage typically includes expenses related to medical treatment and loss of wages, as well as disability and death benefits.
  • Expatriate insurance provides individuals and organizations operating outside of their home country with protection for automobiles, property, health, liability and business pursuits.
  • Financial loss insurance protects individuals and companies against various financial risks. For example, a business might purchase coverage to protect it from loss of sales if a fire in a factory prevented it from carrying out its business for a time. Insurance might also cover the failure of a creditor to pay money it owes to the insured. This type of insurance is frequently referred to as "business interruption insurance." Fidelity bonds and surety bonds are included in this category, although these products provide a benefit to a third party (the "obligee") in the event the insured party (usually referred to as the "obligor") fails to perform its obligations under a contract with the obligee.
  • Kidnap and ransom insurance
  • Locked funds insurance is a little-known hybrid insurance policy jointly issued by governments and banks. It is used to protect public funds from tamper by unauthorized parties. In special cases, a government may authorize its use in protecting semi-private funds which are liable to tamper. The terms of this type of insurance are usually very strict. Therefore it is used only in extreme cases where maximum security of funds is required.
  • Nuclear incident insurance covers damages resulting from an incident involving radioactive materials and is generally arranged at the national level. See the Nuclear exclusion clause and for the United States the Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act)
  • Pet insurance insures pets against accidents and illnesses - some companies cover routine/wellness care and burial, as well.
  • Pollution Insurance, which consists of first-party coverage for contamination of insured property either by external or on-site sources. Coverage for liability to third parties arising from contamination of air, water, or land due to the sudden and accidental release of hazardous materials from the insured site. The policy usually covers the costs of cleanup and may include coverage for releases from underground storage tanks. Intentional acts are specifically excluded.
  • Purchase insurance is aimed at providing protection on the products people purchase. Purchase insurance can cover individual purchase protection, warranties, guarantees, care plans and even mobile phone insurance. Such insurance is normally very limited in the scope of problems that are covered by the policy.
  • Title insurance provides a guarantee that title to real property is vested in the purchaser and/or mortgagee, free and clear of liens or encumbrances. It is usually issued in conjunction with a search of the public records performed at the time of a real estate transaction.
  • Travel insurance is an insurance cover taken by those who travel abroad, which covers certain losses such as medical expenses, loss of personal belongings, travel delay, personal liabilities, etc.

Insurance financing vehicles

  • Protected Self-Insurance is an alternative risk financing mechanism in which an organization retains the mathematically calculated cost of risk within the organization and transfers the catastrophic risk with specific and aggregate limits to an insurer so the maximum total cost of the program is known. A properly designed and underwritten Protected Self-Insurance Program reduces and stabilizes the cost of insurance and provides valuable risk management information.
  • Retrospectively Rated Insurance is a method of establishing a premium on large commercial accounts. The final premium is based on the insured's actual loss experience during the policy term, sometimes subject to a minimum and maximum premium, with the final premium determined by a formula. Under this plan, the current year's premium is based partially (or wholly) on the current year's losses, although the premium adjustments may take months or years beyond the current year's expiration date. The rating formula is guaranteed in the insurance contract. Formula: retrospective premium = converted loss + basic premium × tax multiplier. Numerous variations of this formula have been developed and are in use.
  • Fraternal insurance is provided on a cooperative basis by fraternal benefit societies or other social organizations.
  • Formal self insurance is the deliberate decision to pay for otherwise insurable losses out of one's own money. This can be done on a formal basis by establishing a separate fund into which funds are deposited on a periodic basis, or by simply forgoing the purchase of available insurance and paying out-of-pocket. Self insurance is usually used to pay for high-frequency, low-severity losses. Such losses, if covered by conventional insurance, mean having to pay a premium that includes loadings for the company's general expenses, cost of putting the policy on the books, acquisition expenses, premium taxes, and contingencies. While this is true for all insurance, for small, frequent losses the transaction costs may exceed the benefit of volatility reduction that insurance otherwise affords.
  • No-fault insurance is a type of insurance policy (typically automobile insurance) where insureds are indemnified by their own insurer regardless of fault in the incident.
  • Reinsurance is a type of insurance purchased by insurance companies or self-insured employers to protect against unexpected losses. Financial reinsurance is a form of reinsurance that is primarily used for capital management rather than to transfer insurance risk.
  • Stop-loss insurance provides protection against catastrophic or unpredictable losses. It is purchased by organizations who do not want to assume 100% of the liability for losses arising from the plans. Under a stop-loss policy, the insurance company becomes liable for losses that exceed certain limits called deductibles.
  • Social insurance can be many things to many people in many countries. But a summary of its essence is that it is a collection of insurance coverages (including components of life insurance, disability income insurance, unemployment insurance, health insurance, and others), plus retirement savings, that requires participation by all citizens. By forcing everyone in society to be a policyholder and pay premiums, it ensures that everyone can become a claimant when or if he/she needs to. Along the way this inevitably becomes related to other concepts such as the justice system and the welfare state. This is a large, complicated topic that engenders tremendous debate, which can be further studied in the following articles (and others):

Closed community self-insurance

Some communities prefer to create virtual insurance amongst themselves by other means than contractual risk transfer, which assigns explicit numerical values to risk. A number of religious groups, including the Amish and some Muslim groups, depend on support provided by their communities when disasters strike. The risk presented by any given person is assumed collectively by the community who all bear the cost of rebuilding lost property and supporting people whose needs are suddenly greater after a loss of some kind. In supportive communities where others can be trusted to follow community leaders, this tacit form of insurance can work. In this manner the community can even out the extreme differences in insurability that exist among its members. Some further justification is also provided by invoking the moral hazard of explicit insurance contracts.

In the United Kingdom, The Crown (which, for practical purposes, meant the Civil service) did not insure property such as government buildings. If a government building was damaged, the cost of repair would be met from public funds because, in the long run, this was cheaper than paying insurance premiums. Since many UK government buildings have been sold to property companies, and rented back, this arrangement is now less common and may have disappeared altogether.

Insurance companies

Insurance companies may be classified into two groups:

  • Life insurance companies, which sell life insurance, annuities and pensions products.
  • Non-life, General, or Property/Casualty insurance companies, which sell other types of insurance.

General insurance companies can be further divided into these sub categories.

  • Standard Lines
  • Excess Lines

In most countries, life and non-life insurers are subject to different regulatory regimes and different tax and accounting rules. The main reason for the distinction between the two types of company is that life, annuity, and pension business is very long-term in nature — coverage for life assurance or a pension can cover risks over many decades. By contrast, non-life insurance cover usually covers a shorter period, such as one year.

In the United States, standard line insurance companies are "main stream" insurers. These are the companies that typically insure autos, homes or businesses. They use pattern or "cookie-cutter" policies without variation from one person to the next. They usually have lower premiums than excess lines and can sell directly to individuals. They are regulated by state laws that can restrict the amount they can charge for insurance policies.

Excess line insurance companies (aka Excess and Surplus) typically insure risks not covered by the standard lines market. They are broadly referred as being all insurance placed with non-admitted insurers. Non-admitted insurers are not licensed in the states where the risks are located. These companies have more flexibility and can react faster than standard insurance companies because they are not required to file rates and forms as the "admitted" carriers do. However, they still have substantial regulatory requirements placed upon them. State laws generally require insurance placed with surplus line agents and brokers not to be available through standard licensed insurers.

Insurance companies are generally classified as either mutual or stock companies. This is more of a traditional distinction as true mutual companies are becoming rare. Mutual companies are owned by the policyholders, while stockholders (who may or may not own policies) own stock insurance companies. Other possible forms for an insurance company include reciprocals, in which policyholders 'reciprocate' in sharing risks, and Lloyds organizations.

Insurance companies are rated by various agencies such as A. M. Best. The ratings include the company's financial strength, which measures its ability to pay claims. It also rates financial instruments issued by the insurance company, such as bonds, notes, and securitization products.

Reinsurance companies are insurance companies that sell policies to other insurance companies, allowing them to reduce their risks and protect themselves from very large losses. The reinsurance market is dominated by a few very large companies, with huge reserves. A reinsurer may also be a direct writer of insurance risks as well.

Captive insurance companies may be defined as limited-purpose insurance companies established with the specific objective of financing risks emanating from their parent group or groups. This definition can sometimes be extended to include some of the risks of the parent company's customers. In short, it is an in-house self-insurance vehicle. Captives may take the form of a "pure" entity (which is a 100% subsidiary of the self-insured parent company); of a "mutual" captive (which insures the collective risks of members of an industry); and of an "association" captive (which self-insures individual risks of the members of a professional, commercial or industrial association). Captives represent commercial, economic and tax advantages to their sponsors because of the reductions in costs they help create and for the ease of insurance risk management and the flexibility for cash flows they generate. Additionally, they may provide coverage of risks which is neither available nor offered in the traditional insurance market at reasonable prices.

The types of risk that a captive can underwrite for their parents include property damage, public and product liability, professional indemnity, employee benefits, employers' liability, motor and medical aid expenses. The captive's exposure to such risks may be limited by the use of reinsurance.

Captives are becoming an increasingly important component of the risk management and risk financing strategy of their parent. This can be understood against the following background:

  • heavy and increasing premium costs in almost every line of coverage;
  • difficulties in insuring certain types of fortuitous risk;
  • differential coverage standards in various parts of the world;
  • rating structures which reflect market trends rather than individual loss experience;
  • insufficient credit for deductibles and/or loss control efforts.

There are also companies known as 'insurance consultants'. Like a mortgage broker, these companies are paid a fee by the customer to shop around for the best insurance policy amongst many companies. Similar to an insurance consultant, an 'insurance broker' also shops around for the best insurance policy amongst many companies. However, with insurance brokers, the fee is usually paid in the form of commission from the insurer that is selected rather than directly from the client.

Neither insurance consultants nor insurance brokers are insurance companies and no risks are transferred to them in insurance transactions. Third party administrators are companies that perform underwriting and sometimes claims handling services for insurance companies. These companies often have special expertise that the insurance companies do not have.

The financial stability and strength of an insurance company should be a major consideration when buying an insurance contract. An insurance premium paid currently provides coverage for losses that might arise many years in the future. For that reason, the viability of the insurance carrier is very important. In recent years, a number of insurance companies have become insolvent, leaving their policyholders with no coverage (or coverage only from a government-backed insurance pool or other arrangement with less attractive payouts for losses). A number of independent rating agencies, such as Best's, Fitch, Standard & Poor's, and Moody's Investors Service, provide information and rate the financial viability of insurance companies.

Global insurance industry

Global insurance premiums grew by 8.0% in 2006 (or 5% in real terms) to reach $3.7 trillion due to improved profitability and a benign economic environment characterised by solid economic growth, moderate inflation and strong equity markets. Profitability improved in both life and non-life insurance in 2006 compared to the previous year. Life insurance premiums grew by 10.2% in 2006 as demand for annuity and pension products rose. Non-life insurance premiums grew by 5.0% due to growth in premium rates. Over the past decade, global insurance premiums rose by more than a half as annual growth fluctuated between 2% and 11%.

Advanced economies account for the bulk of global insurance. With premium income of $1,485bn, Europe was the most important region, followed by North America ($1,258bn) and Asia ($801bn). The top four countries accounted for nearly two-thirds of premiums in 2006. The US and Japan alone accounted for 43% of world insurance, much higher than their 7% share of the global population. Emerging markets accounted for over 85% of the world’s population but generated only around 10% of premiums. The volume of UK insurance business totalled $418bn in 2006 or 11.2% of global premiums.

Controversies

Insurance insulates too much

By creating a "security blanket" for its insureds, an insurance company may inadvertently find that its insureds may not be as risk-averse as they might otherwise be (since, by definition, the insured has transferred the risk to the insurer). This problem is known to the insurance industry as moral hazard. To reduce their own financial exposure, insurance companies have contractual clauses that mitigate their obligation to provide coverage if the insured engages in behavior that grossly magnifies their risk of loss or liability.

For example, life insurance companies may require higher premiums or deny coverage altogether to people who work in hazardous occupations or engage in dangerous sports. Liability insurance providers do not provide coverage for liability arising from intentional torts committed by the insured. Even if a provider were so irrational as to want to provide such coverage, it is against the public policy of most countries to allow such insurance to exist, and thus it is usually illegal.

Complexity of insurance policy contracts

Insurance policies can be complex and some policyholders may not understand all the fees and coverages included in a policy. As a result, people may buy policies on unfavorable terms. In response to these issues, many countries have enacted detailed statutory and regulatory regimes governing every aspect of the insurance business, including minimum standards for policies and the ways in which they may be advertised and sold.

Many institutional insurance purchasers buy insurance through an insurance broker. Brokers represent the buyer (not the insurance company), and typically counsel the buyer on appropriate coverage and policy limitations. A broker generally holds contracts with many insurers, thereby allowing the broker to "shop" the market for the best rates and coverage possible.

Insurance may also be purchased through an agent. Unlike a broker, who represents the policyholder, an agent represents the insurance company from whom the policyholder buys. An agent can represent more than one company.

Redlining

Redlining is the practice of denying insurance coverage in specific geographic areas, supposedly because of a high likelihood of loss, while the alleged motivation is unlawful discrimination. Racial profiling or redlining has a long history in the property insurance industry in the United States. From a review of industry underwriting and marketing materials, court documents, and research by government agencies, industry and community groups, and academics, it is clear that race has long affected and continues to affect the policies and practices of the insurance industry.

In determining premiums and premium rate structures, insurers consider quantifiable factors, including location, credit scores, gender, occupation, marital status, and education level. However, the use of such factors is often considered to be unfair or unlawfully discriminatory, and the reaction against this practice has in some instances led to political disputes about the ways in which insurers determine premiums and regulatory intervention to limit the factors used.

An insurance underwriter's job is to evaluate a given risk as to the likelihood that a loss will occur. Any factor that causes a greater likelihood of loss should theoretically be charged a higher rate. This basic principle of insurance must be followed if insurance companies are to remain solvent. Thus, "discrimination" against (i.e., negative differential treatment of) potential insureds in the risk evaluation and premium-setting process is a necessary by-product of the fundamentals of insurance underwriting. For instance, insurers charge older people significantly higher premiums than they charge younger people for term life insurance. Older people are thus treated differently than younger people (i.e., a distinction is made, discrimination occurs). The rationale for the differential treatment goes to the heart of the risk a life insurer takes: Old people are likely to die sooner than young people, so the risk of loss (the insured's death) is greater in any given period of time and therefore the risk premium must be higher to cover the greater risk. However, treating insureds differently when there is no actuarially sound reason for doing so is unlawful discrimination.

What is often missing from the debate is that prohibiting the use of legitimate, actuarially sound factors means that an insufficient amount is being charged for a given risk, and there is thus a deficit in the system. The failure to address the deficit may mean insolvency and hardship for all of a company's insureds. The options for addressing the deficit seem to be the following: Charge the deficit to the other policyholders or charge it to the government (i.e., externalize outside of the company to society at large).

Insurance patents

New insurance products can now be protected from copying with a business method patent in the United States.

A recent example of a new insurance product that is patented is Usage Based auto insurance. Early versions were independently invented and patented by a major U.S. auto insurance company, Progressive Auto Insurance and a Spanish independent inventor, Salvador Minguijon Perez ().

Many independent inventors are in favor of patenting new insurance products since it gives them protection from big companies when they bring their new insurance products to market. Independent inventors account for 70% of the new U.S. patent applications in this area. One such example is titled "Method of Expediting Insurance Claims" Patent 7,203,654 issued April 10, 2007.

Many insurance executives are opposed to patenting insurance products because it creates a new risk for them. The Hartford insurance company, for example, recently had to pay $80 million to an independent inventor, Bancorp Services, in order to settle a patent infringement and theft of trade secret lawsuit for a type of corporate owned life insurance product invented and patented by Bancorp.

There are currently about 150 new patent applications on insurance inventions filed per year in the United States. The rate at which patents have issued has steadily risen from 15 in 2002 to 44 in 2006.

Inventors can now have their insurance US patent applications reviewed by the public in the Peer to Patent program.

The insurance industry and rent seeking

Certain insurance products and practices have been described as rent seeking by critics. That is, some insurance products or practices are useful primarily because of legal benefits, such as reducing taxes, as opposed to providing protection against risks of adverse events. Under United States tax law, for example, most owners of variable annuities and variable life insurance can invest their premium payments in the stock market and defer or eliminate paying any taxes on their investments until withdrawals are made. Sometimes this tax deferral is the only reason people use these products. Another example is the legal infrastructure which allows life insurance to be held in an irrevocable trust which is used to pay an estate tax while the proceeds themselves are immune from the estate tax.

Criticism of insurance companies

Some people believe that modern insurance companies are money-making businesses which have little interest in insurance. They argue that the purpose of insurance is to spread risk so the reluctance of insurance companies to take on high-risk cases (e.g. houses in areas subject to flooding, or young drivers) runs counter to the principle of insurance.

Other criticisms include:

  • Insurance policies contain too many exclusion clauses. For example, some house insurance policies do not cover damage to garden walls.
  • Many insurance companies now use call centres and staff attempt to answer questions by reading from a script. It is difficult to speak to anybody with expert knowledge. While policyholders find their premium payments decrease when dealing with companies who sacrifice the use of trained insurance agents, they also risk greater financial loss due to inadequate coverage protection. Those companies who invest in educated insurance agents provide a valued service to the community. Policyholders who work with knowledgeable insurance agents are more likely to identify needs, evaluate options, purchase sufficient insurance protection, and minimize the risk of heavy financial loss for themselves and their family.

Glossary

  • 'Combined ratio' = loss ratio + expense ratio. Loss ratio is calculated by dividing the amount of losses (sometimes including loss adjustment expenses) by the amount of earned premium. Expense ratio is calculated by dividing the amount of operational expenses by the amount of written premium. A lower number indicates a better return on the amount of capital placed at risk by an insurer.
  • 'SSA' = subscriber savings account.
  • 'AIF' = attorney in fact.

See also

Country Specific Articles

* Insurance in Australia
* Insurance in India
* Insurance in the United States

Notes

External links

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