Global insurance premiums continued to rise in 2017

Global insurance premiums continued to rise in 2017

The FINANCIAL -- Global insurance premiums increased 1.5% in real terms1 to nearly USD 5 trillion in 2017, after rising 2.2% in 2016. Global life premiums increased 0.5% in 2017, while global non-life premiums rose 2.8%.

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. Emerging markets, especially China, continued to drive growth. The Swiss Re Institute expects global non-life premiums to rise, led by the US, where the economy is strengthening. It also predicts that global life insurance premiums will improve over the next few years, driven by strong growth in China, according to Swiss Re.

The annually published "world insurance" sigma report on premium volumes and growth trends reveals that the expansion of global premiums has slowed to 1.5% from 2.2% in 2016. 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 or Western Europe were the main cause of drag on life 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.

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.

Analysing 50 years of growth patterns and insurance penetration

For 50 years, sigma has been publishing data on the global insurance markets showing the changing growth patterns and developments of insurance penetration. Asia has been an important contributor to premium growth on two occasions since 1960. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, life insurance in Japan was in high demand due to the soaring levels of household saving and the country's less developed social security system for old age provision. Since the global financial crisis of 2008/2009, Emerging Asia, led by China, has become the largest source of growth in the global insurance markets, although penetration levels have been gradually increasing across all regions. The regional structure of global insurance markets has shifted from Europe and North America to Advanced and Emerging Asia since 1960.

Jérôme Haegeli, Swiss Re Group Chief Economist, says, "Back then, Advanced and Emerging Asia accounted for 5% of global insurance premiums versus 22% in 2017. For the next decade, the shift to China is likely to continue. Given the impressive number of infrastructure initiatives underway in China, China's contribution to world insurance premiums could yet again exceed expectations. In the following decades, other markets such as India, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan, Nigeria or Kenya could become more important."

Penetration (premiums/GDP) has increased consistently in emerging economies over time. Meanwhile, non-life penetration has virtually stagnated in the advanced markets since around the turn of the century, while it has been on a declining trend in the life sector of advanced markets.