Primary life

Market overview

The global life insurance industry generated about USD 2 500 billion in premium income in 2015, of which 17% came from emerging markets. Around 85% of premium income in life insurance derives from savings and retirement products. The protection business, which covers mortality and morbidity risks, has a declining share of premium income.

2 500

Market size in USD billions

Estimated global premium income in 2015


Market performance

Estimated global premium growth in 2015

Market performance

Global life insurance premium income declined by 5% in US dollar terms in 2015 due to adverse currency developments. In inflation- and currencyadjusted terms, premium income was up 3%.

In mature markets, real premium income growth is estimated to have slowed to 2% in 2015 from 4.2% in 2014. The slowdown would have been more pronounced if not for the overall benign inflation environment, driven by the sharp decline in energy prices. Growth decelerated or continued to decline in most continental European markets, and premiums grew at a slower pace in Canada and Japan. In Australia, premium income contracted following robust growth in 2014, the weakness stemming mainly from volatility in investment-linked products and also poor performance of disability and income protection products. In the US and the UK, premium income returned to growth in 2015 following contraction in the previous two years.

In emerging markets, premium income rose by an estimated 11% in 2015 after a 7.4% gain in 2014. Growth was strongest in the emerging Asian countries (up 13%). In China, premiums were up 12% and in India 8%, the latter after five years of contraction and stagnation due primarily to regulatory changes. Premium growth strengthened to 8% in Latin America while in Central and Eastern Europe, premiums were down 2% in real terms, led by a decline in Russia because of the economic recession, high inflation, unfavourable currency moves and weakening credit which had fuelled growth before.

Life insurance is a long-term business and new business is an important contributor to industry growth. New business in seven major markets representing about 60% of global premium income is expected to have risen by 2% in 2015 (after inflation), following a 9%-increase in 2014. The more modest increase this year was mainly due to improving sales of protection products in most markets. In the US, sales of term insurance products increased 2% in the first half of 2015, after declining slightly in the previous year. Sales of disability insurance have improved also, while new business demand for long-term care continued to weaken due to higher prices. In Canada, term sales recovered modestly (up 3%) in the first half of 2015 after a dip in 2014.

The protection business in the UK is growing again after a long period of contraction. In the first half of the year, protection sales rose by 3.7% following annual declines of close to 4% in both 2013 and 2014. In Germany, term sales were down 4.4% in the first two quarters of the year, while sales of disability products grew by 5.8%. Long-term care insurance sales in Germany also improved. In Italy, protection sales are projected to have grown marginally.

The savings business contracted or slowed due to low interest rates, equity market volatility, and the impact of pension reforms in some markets (eg, the UK). Low interest rates have made it harder for insurers to earn enough investment income and in many countries, guarantees and profit sharing have been reduced. Savings-type insurance has also become more expensive for regulatory reasons (eg, higher capital requirements for long-term guarantees, or asset/liability mismatches). This has made savings-type insurance less attractive for both policyholders and suppliers. Together with adjusting their products and offering more flexible guarantees, insurers are introducing new concepts such as a guarantee of a certain return over the full duration of the contract, rather than an annual return.


There is significant potential for sales growth in mortality and health protection given the large protection gap in many markets and growing consumer awareness of underinsurance. Downside risks from the modest global growth outlook, persistently low interest rates, volatility in financial markets and regulatory changes remain significant in the short to medium term. Global real premium income is forecast to rise by 4% annually in both 2016 and 2017.