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.
Methods for transferring or distributing risk were practiced by Chinese and Babylonian traders as long ago as the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC, respectively. Chinese merchants travelling treacherous river rapids would redistribute their wares across many vessels to limit the loss due to any single vessel's capsizing. The Babylonians developed a system which was recorded in the famous Code of Hammurabi, c. 1750 BC, and practiced by early Mediterranean sailing merchants. If a merchant received a loan to fund his shipment, he would pay the lender an additional sum in exchange for the lender's guarantee to cancel the loan should the shipment be stolen, or lost at sea.
Advanced economies account for the bulk of global insurance. With premium income of $1.62 trillion, Europe was the most important region in 2010, followed by North America $1.409 trillion and Asia $1.161 trillion. Europe has however seen a decline in premium income during the year in contrast to the growth seen in North America and Asia. The top four countries generated more than a half of premiums. The United States and Japan alone accounted for 40% of world insurance, much higher than their 7% share of the global population. Emerging economies accounted for over 85% of the world's population but only around 15% of premiums. Their markets are however growing at a quicker pace. The country expected to have the biggest impact on the insurance share distribution across the world is China. According to Sam Radwan of ENHANCE International LLC, low premium penetration (insurance premium as a % of GDP), an ageing population and the largest car market in terms of new sales, premium growth has averaged 15–20% in the past five years, and China is expected to be the largest insurance market in the next decade or two.
Claims and loss handling is the materialized utility of insurance; it is the actual "product" paid for. Claims may be filed by insureds directly with the insurer or through brokers or agents. The insurer may require that the claim be filed on its own proprietary forms, or may accept claims on a standard industry form, such as those produced by ACORD.
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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.
Muslim scholars have varying opinions about life insurance. Life insurance policies that earn interest (or guaranteed bonus/NAV) are generally considered to be a form of riba (usury) and some consider even policies that do not earn interest to be a form of gharar (speculation). Some argue that gharar is not present due to the actuarial science behind the underwriting. Jewish rabbinical scholars also have expressed reservations regarding insurance as an avoidance of God's will but most find it acceptable in moderation.
In the United States, the most prevalent form of self-insurance is governmental risk management pools. They are self-funded cooperatives, operating as carriers of coverage for the majority of governmental entities today, such as county governments, municipalities, and school districts. Rather than these entities independently self-insure and risk bankruptcy from a large judgment or catastrophic loss, such governmental entities form a risk pool. Such pools begin their operations by capitalization through member deposits or bond issuance. Coverage (such as general liability, auto liability, professional liability, workers compensation, and property) is offered by the pool to its members, similar to coverage offered by insurance companies. However, self-insured pools offer members lower rates (due to not needing insurance brokers), increased benefits (such as loss prevention services) and subject matter expertise. Of approximately 91,000 distinct governmental entities operating in the United States, 75,000 are members of self-insured pools in various lines of coverage, forming approximately 500 pools. Although a relatively small corner of the insurance market, the annual contributions (self-insured premiums) to such pools have been estimated up to 17 billion dollars annually.
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