U.S. life insurers saw their yearly direct life insurance premiums surpass $200 billion for the first time in history in 2021, according to an S&P Global Market Intelligence analysis of annual statutory statements.
In aggregate, the combined group and ordinary, or individual, direct life premiums climbed 9.9% year over year to $204.7 billion in 2021. Industrywide, individual life premiums rose 10.7% to $162.76 billion from $147.01 billion in 2020.
Premiums by policy type are only available net of reinsurance within the regulatory statements. For net premiums within the major individual product types, universal life saw the largest year-over-year growth at nearly 60%, followed by variable universal life at 23.8%. Universal life with secondary guarantees, index and whole life also recorded double-digit growth. Term life net premiums, on the other hand, fell by 5.8%.
Group direct life premiums increased by 7.1% to $41.94 billion in 2021.
Northwestern Mutual's individual life premiums surge
There was very little change in the marketshare rankings for the 15 largest writers of individual life insurance in 2021. The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co., which remains the largest individual writer in the U.S., saw direct premiums rise about 20% year over year to $18.87 billion.
New York Life Insurance Co. and Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co., held steady at No. 2 and No.3, respectively. Both mutual insurers experienced double-digit growth in individual life premiums. New York Life's grew to $12.05 billion, while MassMutual reported $11.62 billion in individual life premiums for 2021.
Lincoln National Corp. and MetLife Inc. were the only insurers among the largest individual life writers to report lower year-over-year individual life premiums in 2021.
MetLife leads in group life
Most of the largest underwriters of group life insurance experienced saw premiums rise in 2021, with four reporting double-digit growth during the period.
MetLife retained the top spot within the rankings by a wide margin, and its group life premiums grew by 15.9% in 2021 to $12.51 billion. That figure is more than double its next-closest competitor, Prudential Financial Inc.
Group life premiums for Nationwide Mutual Group surged 28.6% in 2021, the largest percentage increase in this analysis.
Lincoln National, Securian Financial Group Inc. and New York Life saw their group premiums fall in 2021.
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.