Primary life

2 800

Market size in USD billions
Estimated global premium income in 2019


Market performance
Estimated global premium growth in 2019

Market overview

The global primary life insurance industry generated about USD 2 800 billion in premium income in 2019, of which 20% came from emerging markets. Around 85% of premium income in life insurance is derived from savings and retirement products. The protection business covers a broad spectrum of mortality and morbidity risks.

Market performance

We estimate that global primary life insurance premiums grew by 2% in real terms in 2019, slightly below  the average annual growth rate of the last five years. Premium growth in advanced markets remained sluggish: it stagnated in real terms in Europe and advanced Asia Pacific, but expanded in North America, driven by strong annuity sales in the US.

Emerging market premiums expanded by around 9% on average, albeit with large differences across countries. The Chinese life insurance industry is estimated to have resumed its double-digit growth path with premiums up 13% in 2019, driven by protection products. In 2018, the market had contracted following tighter regulation of wealth management products, which had been among the main growth drivers in the past. In emerging Asia, excluding China, life premiums increased by 7% in 2019. Growth in the Middle East and Africa remained weak, while Latin America grew 4% after a decline the year before.

Overall profitability of the global life insurance sector – as measured by GAAP ROE of listed life insurance companies – was healthy at around 10%. Preliminary data for 2019 suggest a slight improvement from 2018. In response to the persistent low interest rate environment, life insurers are moving their product offering away from traditional savings-type policies towards protection products (eg critical illness, disability, long-term care) and unit-linked policies, where the investment risk is borne by the policyholders.

Market outlook

The business outlook for life insurance is clouded by the increasing likelihood of a deeper global recession. In particular, sales for savings-related insurance policies are likely to decrease in 2020, while protection-related business is expected to remain more stable.