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Northwestern Mutual stays atop US life insurance rankings in Q1'20

Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. remained the largest writer of life insurance in the U.S. during the first three months of 2020.

The Wisconsin-based insurer had $3.76 billion in total life premiums during the first quarter, up 1.0% when compared with the prior-year period. Virtually all of Northwestern's premiums are in the individual line of business, reported as ordinary within regulatory filings, with only $2.2 million coming from group premiums in the quarter.

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MetLife Inc. stays behind Northwestern as the second-largest underwriter of life insurance in the first quarter. MetLife reported year-over-year gains in total life premiums of 5.2% during the quarter. The insurer's group premiums rose 8.7% to $2.71 billion, while individual premiums fell 4.5% to roughly $850 million.

Prudential Financial Inc. was the only insurer in the first-quarter top five to report lower combined life premiums year over year. A combined decrease of 0.6% was made up of a 12.8% fall in group premiums and a 6.9% rise in individual. The company reported double-digit sales growth within guaranteed universal and variable life products, according to its first-quarter investor presentation.

Among the top 15 U.S. life underwriters, Lincoln National Corp., the affiliates of Manulife Financial Corp.'s John Hancock and Aegon NV's Transamerica were the other insurers reporting lower year-over-year total life premiums. Transamerica's decrease of 18.9% was the biggest in the cohort.

In aggregate, total U.S. life premiums were up 0.8% year over year, with growth in both group and individual considerations.

Individual life insurance refers to term insurance and all forms of permanent insurance (e.g., universal, variable, index 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 reflects not only 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.