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 practiced 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 practiced 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 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, Mr. 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 for insurance similar to that which oversees state banks and national banks.
In the state of New York, which has unique laws in keeping with its stature as a global business centre, former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer was in a unique position to grapple with major national insurance brokerages. Spitzer alleged that Marsh & McLennan steered business to insurance carriers based on the amount of contingent commissions that could be extracted from carriers, rather than basing decisions on whether carriers had the best deals for clients. Several of the largest commercial insurance brokerages have since stopped accepting contingent commissions and have adopted new business models.
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 is a (non-exhaustive) list of the many different types of insurance that exist. A single policy may cover risks in one or more of the categories set forth 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 health insurance for medical expenses of guests who are injured on the owner’s property.
* 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 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.
* Aviation insurance insures against hull, spares, deductible, hull war 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.
* 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 owners 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.
* Casualty insurance insures against accidents, not necessarily tied to any specific property.
* Credit insurance repays some or all of a loan back when certain things happen to the borrower such as unemployment, disability, or death. Mortgage insurance (which see below) 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.
* Crime insurance insures 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.
* 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.”
* Defense Base Act Workers’ compensation or DBA Insurance 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.
* Directors and officers liability insurance protects an organization (usually a corporation) from costs associated with litigation resulting from mistakes incurred by directors and officers for which they are liable. In the industry, it is usually called “D&O” for short.
* 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.
o Total permanent disability insurance 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.
* Errors and omissions insurance: See “Professional liability insurance” under “Liability insurance”.
* 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 cover 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.
* Fire insurance: See “Property insurance”.
* Hazard insurance: See “Property insurance”.
* Health insurance policies will often cover the cost of private medical treatments if the National Health Service in the UK (NHS) or other publicly-funded health programs do not pay for them. It will often result in quicker health care where better facilities are available.
* Kidnap and ransom insurance
* Home insurance or homeowners insurance: See “Property insurance”.
* 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 willful or intentional acts by the insured.
o 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.
o Professional liability insurance, also called professional indemnity insurance, protects professional practitioners such as architects, lawyers, doctors, and accountants 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.
* Life insurance provides a monetary benefit to a decedent’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.
o 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.
* 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.
* 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.
* Mortgage insurance insures the lender against default by the borrower.
* National Insurance is the UK’s version of social insurance (which see below).
* 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.
* Nuclear incident insurance covers damages resulting from an incident involving radioactive materials and is generally arranged at the national level. (For the United States, see 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.
* Political risk insurance 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.
* Pollution Insurance. A 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
* 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.
* 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.
* Protected Self-Insurance is an alternative risk financing mechanism in which an organisation retains the mathematically calculated cost of risk within the organisation 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.
* 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.
* 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.
* 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.
* 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 mandates 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):
o Social welfare provision
o Social security
o Social safety net
o National Insurance
o Social Security (United States)
o Social Security debate (United States)
* Stop-loss insurance provides protection against catastrophic or unpredictable losses. It is purchased by organisations 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.
* 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.
* 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, lost of personal belongings, travel delay, personal liabilities, etc.
* Volcano insurance is an insurance that covers volcano damage in Hawaii.
* Workers’ compensation insurance replaces all or part of a worker’s wages lost and accompanying medical expense incurred because of a job-related injury.