Global insurance premiums grew by 3.4% in 2008 to reach $4.3 trillion. For the first time in the past 3 decades, premium income declined in inflation-adjusted terms, with non-life premiums falling by 0.8% and life premiums falling by 3.5%. The insurance industry is exposed to the global economic downturn on the assets side by the decline in returns on investments and on the liabilities side by a rise in claims.
So far the extent of losses on both sides has been limited although investment returns fell sharply following the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and bailout of AIG in September 2008. The financial crisis has shown that the insurance sector is sufficiently capitalized. The vast majority of insurance companies had enough capital to absorb losses and only a small number turned to government for support.
Advanced economies account for the bulk of global insurance. With premium income of $1,753bn, Europe was the most important region in 2008, followed by North America $1,346bn and Asia $933bn. The top four countries generated more than a half of premiums.
The US and Japan alone accounted for 40% 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. Their markets are however growing at a quicker pace.