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Reasons for Life  Insurance

In life, losses are sometimes unavoidable. People may become ill and lose income or savings to pay off medical bills. Individuals or their relatives may die of illness or accidents. People’s homes or other property may suffer damage or theft. People also may accidentally cause injury to others or damage to the property of others.

No one knows in advance when a loss will occur or how serious that loss will be. The uncertainty surrounding potential losses is known as risk. Insurance offers a way for people to replace risk with known costs—the costs of buying and maintaining insurance policies.

Assume a person buys a new car for $25,000. Its owner faces the possibility that, at some point, the car will suffer damage in an accident. But how could the owner budget in advance for a loss of unknown cost? The cost to repair or replace the car in the event of an accident could range from the price of a bottle of touch-up paint to as much as $25,000. If the accident injures someone, the costs of medical care could be much higher. Through the mechanism of insurance, however, the car owner can share the risk of an accident with others who face the same risk.

Insurance pools (combines) risks shared by many people, thereby reducing the risks faced by a group. People pay to buy insurance coverage (protection from risk). In exchange, all policyholders (people who own insurance policies) receive a promise that the group of policyholders—as represented by the insurance organization—will pay when any policyholder experiences a covered loss.

The reduction in risk brought by insurance relies on a mathematical concept called the law of large numbers. That law states that the ability to predict losses improves with larger groups. Using calculations based on statistics, known as actuaries can accurately predict the losses of a large population, even without knowing when or how any one individual will experience loss.

Insurers distinguish between two types of risk: speculative risk and pure risk. Speculative risk offers both the potential for gain and the potential for loss. People who invest in the stock of companies, for example, take speculative risk. An increase in stock prices produces a gain, while a decline in stock prices produces a loss. Pure risk, by contrast, creates the potential only for loss. Although pure risks do not necessarily result in losses, they never result in gains.

Historically, insurance dealt only with pure risks, and most people still buy insurance to cover pure risks. No one, for instance, experiences a gain when they go a full year without an auto accident. However, some insurance companies now help businesses finance large losses including those incurred on speculative risks, such as the international exchange of currency. Also, in the 1990s financial markets and some professions outside insurance, such as the field of environmental impact and damage assessment, began to expand into risk management for the first time.

 

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