LIFE insurance is among the oldest financial products. The Amicable Society, founded in London in 1706, charged members a set contribution and paid out annually to widows and children of those who had died in the previous 12 months. Today it is a vast industry: life and health insurers employ over 800,000 people in America alone. It protects hundreds of millions against the risk of dying early, through death benefits, or the risk of living longer than expected, for example through annuities. According to Allianz, a German insurer, total life-insurance premiums are above 5% of GDP in many rich countries, including Britain, France, Italy and Japan. In America, the world’s biggest market, annual premiums total more than $550bn.

But life insurers are struggling as never before. Those parts of the industry that have not evolved fast enough, says Clive Bannister, the head of Phoenix Group, a “closed” life insurer that buys and manages old policies but issues no new ones, have experienced a…Continue reading