Insurance Brands


Insurance imageThe Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes insurance as, “coverage by contract whereby one party undertakes to indemnify or guarantee another against loss by a specified contingency or peril.” So the basis of insurance is “guarantee against loss”.

Who created and gave the need to have a guarantee against loss. Way back in Babylonian times, around 2100 B.C., the Code of Hammurabi was the first basic insurance policy. This policy was paid by the traders in the form of a loan to guarantee the safe arrival of their goods by caravan. Of course, caravans faced the same kind of perils our transportation industry faces today – like robbery, bad weather and breakdowns.

As history progressed, the needs for insurance increased. The Phoenicians and the Greeks wanted the same type of insurance with their seaborne commerce. The Romans were the first to have burial insurance – people joined burial clubs which paid funeral expenses to surviving family members. In medieval times, the guilds protected their members from loss by fire and shipwreck, paid ransoms to pirates, and provided respectable burials as well as support in times of sickness and poverty.

Then came the very first actual insurance contract, signed in Genoa in 1347. Policies were signed by individuals, either alone or in a group. They each wrote their name and the amount of risk they were willing to assume under the insurance proposal. That’s where the term underwriter came from.

Underwriters play a big part in the insurance industry. They’re the ones who calculate the risk, based on statistics, and decide what the premiums will be. In 1693, the astronomer Edmond Halley created a basis for underwriting life insurance by developing the first mortality table. He combined the statistical laws of mortality and the principle of compound interest. However, this table used the same rate for all ages. In 1756, Joseph Dodson corrected this error and made it possible to scale the premium rate to age.

By this time, the practice of insuring cargo while being shipped was widespread throughout the maritime nations of Europe. Then in London, in 1688, the first insurance company was formed. It got its start at Lloyd’s Coffee House, a place where merchants, ship-owners, and underwriters met to transact their business. Lloyd’s grew into one of the first modern insurance companies, Lloyd’s of London.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, British commerce was rapidly growing. As commerce grew, risks increased. In a way, progress was actually working against the insurance industry – there were more and more ways of goods being damaged or lost, as goods were shipped greater distances and by more advanced methods. Therefore, there were higher payouts for claims.

The members of stock companies saw an opportunity for a profitable business here. They were chartered in the insurance business in England in 1720, and in 1735. The first American insurance company was founded in the British colony of Charleston, SC. In 1787 and 1794 respectively, the first fire insurance companies were formed in New York City and Philadelphia. The first American insurance corporation was sponsored by a church – the Presbyterian Synod of Philadelphia – for their ministers and their dependents. Then other needs for insurance were discovered and, in the 1830s, the practice of classifying risks was begun. Although there was religious prejudice against the practice of insurance by a church, after 1840 it declined and life insurance boomed.

So everybody was getting into the swing of insurance. People accepted the fact that they needed to pay premiums to protect themselves and their loved ones in case of loss, including major losses like fires. The insurance companies had a rude awakening to this fact in 1835 when the New York fire struck. The losses were unexpectedly high and they had no reserves prepared for such a situation. As a result of this, Massachusetts lead the states in 1837 by passing a law that required insurance companies to maintain such reserves. The great Chicago fire in 1871 reiterated the need for these reserves, especially in large dense cities.

Insurance companies had to work together to find a solution to the challenge of large losses. So they got together and devised a system called reinsurance whereby losses were distributed among many companies. This system is now commonly used in all types of insurance.