Global insurance premiums up 1.5% to US$5 tln in 2017

| 06 Jul 2018

Global insurance premiums increased 1.5% in real terms to nearly USD 5 trillion in 2017, after rising 2.2% in 2016, according to Swiss Re Institute sigma study. Global life premiums increased 0.5% in 2017, while global non-life premiums rose 2.8%.

Global life premiums increased to roughly USD 2.7 trillion in 2017, while global non-life premiums rose to approximately USD 2.2 trillion.

Growth in both the life and non-life sectors slowed

Falling life premiums in advanced markets such as the US and Western Europe were the main cause of drag on overall global premium growth. Slower, but still solid growth in emerging markets led to the slowdown in the non-life sector.

Nevertheless, emerging markets, especially China, remain an important driver of global premium growth. China continued to be among the world's fastest growing insurance markets, particularly in life.

Emerging markets premium growth continues

In emerging markets, life and non-life premiums increased 14% and 6.1% respectively in 2017. In the non-life sector, growth in 2017 has slowed but still remained robust.

The slowdown in emerging markets was largely driven by China, where the speed of expansion halved to a still solid 10%. The insurance markets in emerging countries have outperformed the corresponding economies for decades, given the current low levels of insurance penetration. In these markets, incomes, revenues and assets of individuals and companies are growing, which in turn boosts the demand for insurance.

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China continued to be the main growth engine in emerging markets. Compared to 2016, growth slowed in the region but remained robust. The Chinese life market grew by 21% in 2017, well above its ten year average of 14%.

China is now the second largest life market globally after the US and accounts for more than half of emerging market life insurance premiums written, or 11% of the world total.

Premiums in advanced markets face headwinds

Non-life premium growth in advanced markets remained broadly stable in 2017 at 1.9%. In the US, the non-life industry benefitted from higher rates in motor business, while prices in commercial lines remained under pressure.

Life premiums in advanced markets, which fell 2.7% in 2017, were the primary cause of the drag on global growth. The North American life market declined by 3.5%, driven by supply side factors, as players exited the retirement savings business, including variable annuities. Among advanced Asian markets, which were down 2.1%, expectations of lower mortality rates have delayed life insurance purchases in Japan.

The life sector in advanced markets has failed to recover from the 2008 financial crisis. Well documented factors, such as the depressed economic environment, stagnant wages combined with low interest rates and changing solvency regimes made traditional savings products with interest rate guarantees both unattractive for consumers and life insurers.

Market outlook for global life and non-life premiums

Over the next few years, the Swiss Re Institute predicts that global life insurance premiums will rise, driven by strong growth in China. However, profitability continues to be under pressure due to low interest rates, increasing competition and regulatory changes.

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Jérôme Haegeli, Swiss Re Group Chief Economist, says, "The ongoing low interest rate environment remains a major concern for life insurers' profitability and their ability to offer attractive long term life insurance products, particularly in combination with Solvency II types of regulatory frameworks."

The Swiss Re Institute also expects global non-life premiums to increase, led by advanced markets such as the US, where the economy is strengthening. Although the insurance markets in emerging countries have solidly outperformed the corresponding economies for decades, the Swiss Re Institute estimates that, in the years to come, advanced markets will contribute more than half of the additional premiums in absolute terms.

The Swiss Re Group is one of the world’s leading providers of reinsurance, insurance and other forms of insurance-based risk transfer, working to make the world more resilient. Headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland, where it was founded in 1863, the Swiss Re Group operates through a network of around 80 offices globally.

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