Are Auto Insurance Companies Profitable?

Yes, auto insurance companies are profitable because they are for-profit businesses. Auto insurers are profitable when they earn more in premiums for the year than they pay out in claims. Good auto insurers will be profitable while bad insurers will not be, that is why it's important to pay attention to financial rankings when choosing a car insurance provider.

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Rachel Bodine graduated from college with a BA in English. She has since worked as a Feature Writer in the insurance industry and gained a deep knowledge of state and countrywide insurance laws and rates. Her research and writing focus on helping readers understand their insurance coverage and how to find savings. Her expert advice on insurance has been featured on sites like PhotoEnforced, All...

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Leslie Kasperowicz holds a BA in Social Sciences from the University of Winnipeg. She spent several years as a Farmers Insurance CSR, gaining a solid understanding of insurance products including home, life, auto, and commercial and working directly with insurance customers to understand their needs. She has since used that knowledge in her more than ten years as a writer, largely in the insurance...

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Reviewed by Leslie Kasperowicz
Farmers CSR for 4 Years

UPDATED: Apr 8, 2021

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Auto insurance companies are typically set up as for-profit corporations. As with any industry, good companies are profitable and bad ones are not.

Are auto insurance companies really that profitable? How do car insurers make money? Is the car insurance industry more lucrative than the life or health insurance industries? Today, we’re answering all your questions about whether or not auto insurers are profitable.

Why are some insurers profitable but some are not?

Generally, a good insurer will be profitable. A bad insurery will be unprofitable and shut down.

A good insurer hedges its risk and diversifies its coverage pool. A good insurer prices its policies at rates where they can be profitable and competitive.

A bad company fails to diversify. Bad carriers go bankrupt when a hailstorm or hurricane sweeps through an area, for example. Bad insurers charge too much – or too little – for their insurance policies.

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How do insurers earn money?

A policy is a contract between you and the company. The company promises to cover certain losses – say, if you get into a car accident or if your house burns down.

The company is taking on risk by agreeing to cover this loss. In order for the company to take on this risk, the policyholder must pay a fee. This is known as the premium.

In an insurance company’s ideal world, the policyholder will pay premiums for life and never make a claim.

In reality, of course, a certain percentage of policyholders will make a claim. The company will need to pay out these claims. The difference between the premiums collected and the money paid out in claims is known as underwriting income.

Insurance company profitability varies year by year. In some years, insurers will collect large sums of cash and have few payouts, for example. In other years, the premiums collected will not cover the cost of claims paid out.

Where do your premiums go?

You might think your insurance company accepts your premium as pure cash. You pay $100 per month for car insurance, and $100 gets added to the company’s pool every month.

Of course, this is not the case. Studies show that approximately $0.50 of every dollar collected by insurance companies goes towards paying insurance claims. Another $0.20 goes towards operating costs, like the costs of having salaried employees handling claims or operating 24/7 lines. $0.15 is paid to the state and federal government in taxes. Whatever is left over is considered profit.

How do insurers invest money to turn a profit?

Insurance companies don’t just hold money in a pool and wait for claims to roll in. They invest money.

Typically, state governments regulate how insurance companies invest their money. That’s why most companies put their profits into low-risk investments.

These low-risk investments allow insurance companies to diversify risk and earn a profit while still being able to easily cover their liabilities.

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Which type of insurance is most profitable?

The insurance industry in the United States is very competitive. Some companies specialize in a specific aspect of coverage– like car. Others offer a full spectrum of life, home, and car policies– often through a subsidiary.

Is one type of insurance more profitable than others? Is health insurance more lucrative than car insurance?

Generally, the industry is split into two sides. Some companies offer property and casualty insurance (P&C). P&C insurance covers your property – like your cars and home – and certain liabilities caused by those properties. Other companies strictly life and health insurance.

Insurance company profitability can be traced back to the underwriting process. Insurance companies become profitable by underwriting risks that result in the following two types of claims:

1) High-frequency and low severity claims

2) Low-frequency and high severity claims

In the first category, an insurance company might be profitable by only insuring drivers with cheaper vehicles instead of high-end or exotic cars. The insurance pool has a high frequency of minor accidents, but the claims are generally not severe.

In the second category, an insurance company might be profitable by protecting policyholders against events that are unlikely to occur frequently. A home insurance company might cover earthquake damage or flood damage, for example. The company will be profitable because it can charge higher premiums (because the events are so catastrophic when they occur), but severe events are infrequent (like a 1 in 100 years flood event or perfect storm).

To enhance profitability, insurance companies will also diversify their pool. An insurance company might insure homes on the coast of Florida, for example, and have a pool of customers further inland where hurricane damage is lessened. Insurance companies can diversify risk based on geography, limits, duration, and other coverage options, hedging their profits for when a 1 in 100 year event does occur.

Overall, it’s hard to definitively state which type of insurance is most profitable because profits vary widely year by year. It’s like comparing apples to oranges.

In a year with no major hurricanes, disasters, floods, or storms, for example, home and auto insurance companies might be the most profitable companies in the nation. In disaster-prone years, however, life insurance policy and health coverage companies might come out ahead.

Complicating matters even further is that many insurance companies offer multiple types of insurance policies. Few companies specialize in just one type of insurance.

Are certain types of coverage not profitable?

It’s also important to note that not all insurance is guaranteed to be profitable.

Most private insurance companies in the United States no longer offer flood insurance because it was not profitable, for example.

Similarly, health insurance companies have no financial incentive to cover high-risk patients with pre-existing conditions.

That’s why the government will occasionally step in. FEMA, for example, runs the National Flood Insurance Program, which offers flood insurance to flood-prone communities that are not served by private insurance carriers.

What’s our final word?

Insurance companies are generally set up as for-profit corporations. Like any industry, good insurance companies generate profits while bad companies do not.

Insurance companies make money from premiums paid by customers. They also generate income by investing this money. By diversifying risk and income, good insurance companies can remain profitable year after year.

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