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US P&C industry's fastest-growing insurer takes Root as insurtech flourishes


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US P&C industry's fastest-growing insurer takes Root as insurtech flourishes

The U.S. property and casualty and life insurance industries' fastest-growing carriers face decidedly distinct near-term outlooks.

Private auto insurer Root Insurance Co. remains in growth mode though it will be hard-pressed to replicate the astronomical rate of expansion in premium volumes it achieved in 2018. Meanwhile, life and annuity-focused Global Bankers Insurance Group LLC, with one of its principals facing federal public corruption and bribery charges, is reportedly up for sale after its direct premiums and considerations surged by 250.4%.

There was no shortage of fast-growing companies and groups in 2018 as direct premium volumes in both the P&C and life industries expanded at their strongest rates in recent memory. For the P&C industry, fueled by rising auto insurance premiums, direct premiums written growth of 5.4% marked a 14-year high. A rebound in individual annuity sales drove growth exceeding 6% in direct life industry premiums and considerations, which represented a seven-year high.

S&P Global Market Intelligence selects the fastest-growing P&C carriers based on combined annual statement filers and stand-alone entities that generated expansion of 33% or more in both direct and net premiums written in 2018 off of bases for each metric of at least $1 million in 2017. One of the 13 National Association of Insurance Commissioners' Insurance Regulatory Information System ratios, which are intended to assist state insurance regulators in their analysis of carrier financial conditions, sets 33% as the threshold for an "unusual" year-over-year increase in net premiums written.

The criteria for the life industry similarly apply to both direct and net business volumes, subject to prior-year writings of at least $1 million and growth rates in both metrics of at least 25%. Life groups and stand-alone entities must also achieve 25% growth in direct first-year and single premium business as a measure of new production. The direct growth rates are used to eliminate those groups or carriers whose expansions in net business solely reflect the impact of developments such as temporary recaptures of previously ceded affiliated reinsurance, something that has resulted in a number of unusual income statement entries in recent years.

Insurtech's P&C insurgence

Root and Lemonade Insurance Co., both of which have pledged to use advanced technologies as part of their respective missions to transform the insurance industry, finished first and second in the P&C rankings for 2018 based on growth in direct premiums written.

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Related research: Insurtech startup Root is growing like a weed

With $106.4 million in direct premiums written, Root's growth totaled 2,581.9% year over year. Lemonade, a homeowners and renters insurer, ended 2018 with $46.8 million in direct premiums written, an increase of 420.5%.

Root expanded within its existing states and launched products in 13 new ones during 2018. Changes to the terms of its quota share reinsurance contract contributed to its rate of growth in net business significantly outpacing that in direct writings. The company sells auto coverage direct to consumers through its smartphone app, which also acts as a telematics device by gathering driving behavior data.

Lemonade also launched in 13 new states during 2018. Much of its growth came from markets in which it was active in 2017: Texas, California and its home state of New York.

Another industry disrupter, Metromile Insurance Co., ranked as 2017's fastest-growing P&C insurer with expansion in direct and net premiums written of 1,061% and 636.4%, respectively. The pay-per-mile auto insurer's growth slowed in 2018 from a much higher base, with direct premiums written rising by 65.3% to $87.2 million. Net premiums written increased by only 8.5%, however, reflecting a higher level of ceded reinsurance.

Growth rates in direct premiums written in the first quarter for Root and Lemonade similarly lagged prior periods, but they remained quite impressive at 1,022.1% and 158.6%, respectively. Both companies continued their patterns of growing rapidly in many of their existing markets, supplemented by entries into new states.

While insurtech companies like Root, Lemonade and Metromile have attracted considerable attention for their respective strategies in recent years, the ranks of the P&C industry's fastest-growing writers in 2018 also included more obscure entities targeting niche markets.

New Horizon Insurance Co. Inc., which ranked No. 3 in direct premiums written growth and No. 2 in net premiums written growth, focuses on cross-border traffic between the United States and Mexico. Working with managing general agency Green Road Services, it offers short-term auto policies of up to seven days in duration and annual personal and commercial auto policies for those who frequently cross the border.

County Hall Insurance Co. Inc. A Risk Retention Group earned a spot on the list of the fastest-growing P&C carriers for a second consecutive year. The company generates commercial auto liability and general liability business through commercial trucking managing general underwriter CTC Transportation Insurance Services LLC. It underwrites everything from individual owner-operators to large commercial fleets.

The accounting for certain M&A activity also factored into the P&C rankings.

Wisconsin property and liability insurer Farmington Mutual Insurance Co.'s 2018 results reflected its status as the survivor of a Dec. 31, 2018, merger with Little Black Mutual Insurance Co. The combined company, which has since been renamed United Mutual Insurance Co. (WI), generated nearly $5.7 million in direct premiums written in 2018. Farmington Mutual's 2017 writings on a stand-alone basis amounted to $1.6 million.

Trinity Universal Insurance Co., Kemper Corp.'s combined annual P&C statement filing entity, entered a 100% quota share agreement with the Infinity Property & Casualty Corp. companies in December 2018. Kemper acquired Infinity, a nonstandard auto group, in July 2018. The combined annual statement of Trinity Universal includes its subsidiaries and those affiliates with which it maintains 100% quota shares.

Growth for one life group to be short-lived

Among the 19 U.S. life groups and stand-alone entities that met the criteria for consideration in the rankings, it should come as little surprise that ordinary individual annuities accounted for more than half of the direct business volume for nine of them. U.S. life industry direct ordinary individual annuity considerations surged by 14.3% in 2018 as the industry rebounded from a nearly two years of regulatory uncertainty associated with the U.S. Department of Labor's Fiduciary Rule.

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That business line accounted for 94.6% of Global Bankers' 2018 direct premiums and considerations, and the group's $1.71 billion in direct individual annuity considerations represented an increase of 316.1% year over year. All told, the group's growth in total direct premiums and considerations approached 250.4%, with direct first-year and single premiums soaring by 332.6% to $1.69 billion.

Colorado Bankers Life Insurance Co., the company responsible for most of the group's gains, said in its most recent annual statement that it launched a suite of multiyear guaranteed annuity products in late 2017 and rolled out new fixed index annuities in September 2018. The company's momentum grew through the first three quarters of 2018, with Colorado Bankers' business volume peaking in the third quarter of the year.

After that, however, its premium writings in the individual annuity business slumped to $282.4 million in the fourth quarter of 2018 from $557.3 million in the preceding period. Colorado Bankers said it employed a variety of actions in October 2018 to "significantly limit" new sales of the multiyear guaranteed and indexed annuity products. It received crediting rates to "significantly less competitive levels" on the former product while it targeted rates on the latter at levels that are "less competitive in the market." The company also capped the maximum contract size on new annuity business at $250,000.

First-quarter results for Colorado Bankers were not available at this article's time of publication. The company said it was cooperating with the U.S. Attorney's Office in its investigation into certain campaign contributions by Greg Lindberg, its ultimate controlling person.

The fastest-growing U.S. life group by direct first-year and single premiums, Swiss Re AG, generated much lower levels of direct business in 2018 while attracting less public scrutiny.

Best known for its reinsurance capabilities, a Swiss Re affiliate in 2016 acquired Lumico Life Insurance Co., then known as Generation Life Insurance Co., with an eye toward launching direct life and health protection products targeting U.S. middle-market consumers.

Lumico Life said in its most recent annual statement that its new business includes term life insurance, final expense and accidental death policies. The Swiss Re group's direct first-year and single premium writings, which entirely consists of Lumico Life's production, soared by 724.9% in 2018 to $16.1 million.

The company's first-quarter results point to another strong year. Direct premiums and considerations of $12.2 million marked an increase of 341.6% from the first quarter of 2018. If its writings for future periods were to only replicate the first quarter's volume, Lumico Life's full-year 2019 growth rate would exceed 139%.