Life insurance tends to be one of those things that you know may be good for you, but is so easy to put off. For one, it makes you confront something uncomfortable: possibly untimely death. On top of that, some insurance products are so complicated that even the people selling them often don’t fully understand. Who designs these things anyway?
A life actuary works for an insurance company and analyzes the many factors involved: the likelihood of death in various circumstances, the investment returns generated by premiums charged (minus expected payouts), and pricing decisions that balance profit margin with market competitiveness. They have strong mathematical and analytical backgrounds and passing all the exams for full credentialing usually takes several years. In other words, these people make sure the insurance company makes money in the end no matter what happens.
(Fun fact: Being an actuary consistently ranks as one of the best jobs out there due to the combination of high pay, solid demand, and low stress.)
So I was happy to see a post on an investing blog I read called “What Insurance do Actuaries Buy?“. What beer do brewmasters drink? What toothbrush do dentists use? The author David Merkel is a CFA and also used to be a life actuary. Excerpts from his response below:
Actuaries avoid complexity in insurance products. Why? In general, complex products hide high profit margins. Products that are easy to analyze, like term life insurance, are competitive, and profit margins are low.
Also, they tend to use insurance as catastrophe cover, because they know that having insurance companies pay on a lot of small claims is expensive on average.
There is an exception to all of this. If you are so rich as to need to stiff the taxman, buying cash value insurance policies can make a lot of sense. In that case, wealthy actuaries with clever tax advisors buy cash value life insurance. Death benefits do not pass through the estate.
This aligns with most of the unbiased advice I’ve read on life insurance. If a death in your household would be a financial catastrophe, then you need life insurance. Don’t waste money insuring on your cell phone or laptop that will be outdated next month. Use that money to secure your family.
Term life insurance is the easiest to compare across providers, which results in the slimmest profit margins and affordable costs. Term is best for the vast majority of people. More complicated types of life insurance may have proper application in very limited situations for the very wealthy with estate planning needs. A good place to start is Term4Sale.com which doesn’t include every provider but does provide good info and the same prices that an insurance broker would charge you.
This post is participating in the Life Insurance Movement, organized by Jeff Rose of Good Financial Cents, a group writing project about life insurance.
By Jonathan Ping | Insurance | 8/22/12, 12:12am