Is Insurance Still For Policyholders?

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Insurance began in the Middle Ages, and policies could be written for almost anything. Policies were taken out to protect risks of trade, against the death of a head of state, and for many other forms of speculation. There was almost no limit on what a policy could be written for. Additionally, there was no shared risk as these policies were taken out only by individuals.

In the early 18th century, mutual insurance was created. Instead of individuals essentially placing bets that would pay off if tragedy struck, these policies created communities of members who were concerned with offsetting risk with reward. The lack of tragedy led to the payout of dividends to the members. Gradually, governments forced the transition of insurance from legal gambling on misfortune to companies behaving more like public utilities. Mutual-insurance companies helped the betterment of society with innovations like workplace-safety measures.

Over the last four years Edmund Kelly, former CEO of Liberty Mutual, has pocketed over $200 million in compensation.

In 1911, the first workers’ compensation insurance was written in Massachusetts in the form of a state-subsidized mutual-insurance company. Like most mutual insurance, the aim was the mitigation of risk by providing incentives to reduce risk and demanding small sums from each participant that were then combined into large sums for the victims or beneficiaries of the policy.

In the mid-1990s, insurance companies began pushing for legislation to authorize them to place their assets into holding companies that could then sell stock. Critics believed the policyholders were being divested of their ownership in such an arrangement, but little true resistance was brought to bear. What has transpired as a result of this shift is that increasingly the profits from insurance companies were being captured by its executive leadership instead of being reflected as profits and returned to its policyholders as dividends.

As such, 200 years after mutual insurance was created, history reversed itself. No longer was insurance sold to people who had a stake in the assets and risks on which they bet. The community no longer bore the rewards of mutual insurance as company profits were put in the hands of the elite leadership and not distributed across policyholders. One can surmise that policyholders also lost more control over how claims were handled than was anticipated when mutual insurance was created. Policyholders also likely see little incentive to follow risk-averse practices as they receive no return benefit in the form of dividends as they used to. When profit is the only goal in business only the business itself and, more specifically, its executives truly gain. One indication of this is Edmund Kelly, former CEO of Liberty Mutual. Over the last four years he has pocketed over $200 million in compensation.

Source: The Atlantic

One thought on “Is Insurance Still For Policyholders?

  1. Pingback: Why Your Vote Matters to Workers | Workers' Compensation Watch

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