In most countries, life and non-life insurers are subject to different regulatory regimes and different tax and accounting rules. The main reason for the distinction between the two types of company is that life, annuity, and pension business is very long-term in nature – coverage for life assurance or a pension can cover risks over many decades. By contrast, non-life insurance cover usually covers a shorter period, such as one year.
For example, life insurance companies may require higher premiums or deny coverage altogether to people who work in hazardous occupations or engage in dangerous sports. Liability insurance providers do not provide coverage for liability arising from intentional torts committed by or at the direction of the insured. Even if a provider desired to provide such coverage, it is against the public policy of most countries to allow such insurance to exist, and thus it is usually illegal.
Limited risk of catastrophically large losses: Insurable losses are ideally independent and non-catastrophic, meaning that the losses do not happen all at once and individual losses are not severe enough to bankrupt the insurer; insurers may prefer to limit their exposure to a loss from a single event to some small portion of their capital base. Capital constrains insurers' ability to sell earthquake insurance as well as wind insurance in hurricane zones. In the United States, flood risk is insured by the federal government. In commercial fire insurance, it is possible to find single properties whose total exposed value is well in excess of any individual insurer's capital constraint. Such properties are generally shared among several insurers, or are insured by a single insurer who syndicates the risk into the reinsurance market.
Annuities provide a stream of payments and are generally classified as insurance because they are issued by insurance companies, are regulated as insurance, and require the same kinds of actuarial and investment management expertise that life insurance requires. Annuities and pensions that pay a benefit for life are sometimes regarded as insurance against the possibility that a retiree will outlive his or her financial resources. In that sense, they are the complement of life insurance and, from an underwriting perspective, are the mirror image of life insurance.
The financial stability and strength of an insurance company should be a major consideration when buying an insurance contract. An insurance premium paid currently provides coverage for losses that might arise many years in the future. For that reason, the viability of the insurance carrier is very important. In recent years, a number of insurance companies have become insolvent, leaving their policyholders with no coverage (or coverage only from a government-backed insurance pool or other arrangement with less attractive payouts for losses). A number of independent rating agencies provide information and rate the financial viability of insurance companies.
In managing the claims handling function, insurers seek to balance the elements of customer satisfaction, administrative handling expenses, and claims overpayment leakages. As part of this balancing act, fraudulent insurance practices are a major business risk that must be managed and overcome. Disputes between insurers and insureds over the validity of claims or claims handling practices occasionally escalate into litigation (see insurance bad faith).
Insurance involves pooling funds from many insured entities (known as exposures) to pay for the losses that some may incur. The insured entities are therefore protected from risk for a fee, with the fee being dependent upon the frequency and severity of the event occurring. In order to be an insurable risk, the risk insured against must meet certain characteristics. Insurance as a financial intermediary is a commercial enterprise and a major part of the financial services industry, but individual entities can also self-insure through saving money for possible future losses.
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