U.S. life insurers in the first quarter saw their premiums grow by a bit more than 2% year over year.
The industry's total premiums in the first three months of 2019 were $44.6 billion, up 2.2% versus the prior-year period, according to an analysis by S&P Global Market Intelligence. The bulk of the total premiums written are from the individual line of business, which accounted for about 78% or $34.7 billion in premiums written.
Out of the top 15 writers of life insurance, MetLife Inc., Lincoln National Corp., Aegon NV's Transamerica subsidiaries, and American International Group Inc. saw their year-over-year individual premiums shrink.
Lincoln's life sales came to about $160 million during the first three months of 2019, $3 million lower than a year ago. Sales in its MoneyGuard, life combination product, and variable universal life products were lower.
Sales of index universal life and term, on the other hand, were up when compared to the previous year. Lincoln CEO Dennis Glass on a May earnings conference call said the company was focused on "penetrating faster-growing segments of the marketplace" which includes both of those products.
Prudential Financial Inc. had the largest percentage increase in year-over-year individual life premiums. Prudential's individual premiums increased to $1.9 billion, up 5.7% from the prior-year period. First-quarter sales of Prudential's variable life products more than doubled, growing to $61 million versus $29 million in 2018.
Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. remains the largest writer of life insurance in the U.S. The company wrote $3.72 billion of individual and $1.6 million in group premiums in the first quarter. According to regulatory filings, Northwestern began writing group life insurance during the fourth quarter of 2017, a period in which it reported about $65,000 in premiums.
Individual life insurance refers to term insurance and all forms of permanent insurance (e.g., universal, variable, variable universal, whole) and is reported as ordinary within NAIC statutory statements. Often offered through the workplace, group life insurance is typically term insurance and allows members of a group to purchase coverage up to a certain level without the need for underwriting.
S&P Global Market Intelligence uses statutory total life premiums to determine market share. Total premium is a preferred indicator of market share as it not only reflects new business but also the persistency of a company's existing business in the form of renewal premiums. Additionally, many policyholder acquisition costs are not recovered within one year. As such, total premium can also be a better indicator of profitability for life insurers, whereas new sales do not necessarily equate with profitability.
Click here to view a template that shows life companies' market share by line of business.