Mutual vs. Stock Insurers

By Charles Chamness | November 2, 2015

A.M. Best’s recently released 2015 “Mutuals at a Glance” report is an interesting report on differences between mutual and stock companies in key areas of performance. In its pages is a depiction of a mutual insurance industry that is strong, stable and continuing to successfully serve policyholders as mutual insurers have been doing in the U.S. since 1752.

The report is encouraging and presents the mutual model, including apparent advantages as well as some purported challenges, based on differences due to “strategic scope” when compared to that of other organizational structures in insurance.

Among the more notable findings is the continued strong mutual segment performance based on Best’s own standard, the Best Capital Adequacy Ratio (BCAR). Using the BCAR, the report notes that “mutual companies maintain a solid level of capitalization as reflected by more than 75 percent of the rated companies that reported BCAR scores of 250 or higher, which is well in excess of published guidelines.”

The report acknowledges that “Mutual companies are highly rated with 10 percent in the exceptional and superior category, 66 percent in excellent, 21 percent in good and only 3 percent falling into the fair and below category.”

Describing mutual insurance companies as underperforming in comparison to stock insurance companies can be like saying that marathon runners ‘underperform’ sprinters.

With regard to purported challenges, the Best report notes that mutual companies tend to have conservative investment portfolios with relatively little in equity investments, which could impede investment gains. But racking up outsized profits has never been a priority of the mutual insurance model.

Mutuals do not have shareholders and therefore operate without the motivation for short-term financial returns to maximize quarterly earnings. Because shareholder returns and short-term profits are not predominant goals, a mutual insurer can invest to seek solid returns while keeping the company portfolios less vulnerable to the whims of the stock market. Describing mutual insurance companies as underperforming in comparison to stock insurance companies in this and other areas can be like saying that marathon runners “underperform” sprinters. Just as the objectives for both are different, so are the attributes of performance and the definitions of success.

Historically, mutual companies have exhibited financial stability that allows them to maintain their focus on policyholders. This singular focus has kept two-thirds of U.S. mutual insurers – a vast majority of whom are National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC) members – in business for more than a century, helping them to outperform the rest of the industry in customer satisfaction and retention.

In short, the A.M. Best report does a good job of identifying variations in mutual versus stock company performance in the industry. It also does a good job of rightly acknowledging the differences in strategy, scope, and management focus that often drive those differences.

About Charles Chamness

Chamness is president/CEO of the National Association of Mutual Insurance Cos.

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Insurance Journal West November 2, 2015
November 2, 2015
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