When an underwriting historian looks at the subject of financial underwriting, they quickly come to the realization that the conflict/confusion/befuddlement in the different perspectives between underwriter and advisor has existed since days when we could not agree on the value of the inventor of the wheel as a key man! History being so out of vogue today I will skip the horse and buggy, the two great wars, the moon landing and the Cold War so I can jump to 1956. Reading the Transactions of the Society of Actuaries 1956 Volume 8 Number 21 the conclusion by many at the time was “large case mortality was excellent” but still there was conversation about financial underwriting interspersed with concerns of too much accidental death benefit riders, pressure on nonmedical insurance and the creeping concern of antiselection on cheap term products as they entered the product arsenal. Typical concerns of legendary actuaries who ran underwriting and where all real decision making was left to medical doctors. The lay underwriter was yet to be hatched although in the 1950’s there emerged an experiment to try using trained clerks to make risk selection decisions!
Before most readers were born, and for those that were they were still thinking mathematics was a lucrative career choice, reinsurance played a trivial role in the life insurance industry. In Canada 0.04% (rounded up of course) of all life risk was reinsured in 1969. There was a slightly higher percentage in the USA but my notes and memory failed to enlighten me as I wrote this article. Believe it or not for you youngsters, reinsurance was a follower and minor player in the realm of life insurance risk taking. The icons of the era were insurance company leaders not reinsurance personnel. Reinsurance personnel deferred to the wise counsel of insurance leaders who were at the leading edge of pricing and risk selection. Content to beg or cajole for a mere pittance of the premium pot, the reinsurers fought each other for the privilege of table scraps if we liken the fat purses of insurers to the gluttonous meals served to the emerging obese of today. About the only worthy feature of reinsurers in the “good old days” was their research into impaired lives and the experimental risk taking they fostered for notoriety.