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World’s Largest Insurers

China’s Ping An sees big gain as AM Best’s top 25 insurer lists show stability.
  • David Pilla
  • February 2019
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A Chinese multiline insurer broke into the top five among AM Best Co.'s annual top 25 insurers list ranked by 2017 net premiums written, while the top 25 in terms of nonbanking assets saw a life insurer drop from first to fifth place in mostly stable rankings.

Among the top five insurers measured by 2017 net premiums written, a standout change from the previous year is Ping An Insurance (Group) of China Ltd., which moved to No. 4 from the previous year's ninth place.

Four of the top five kept the same positions from the previous year.

UnitedHealth Group stayed on top (measured by earned premiums rather than NPW) and Axa S.A. remained at No. 2, followed by China Life Insurance (Group) Co. at No. 3. Allianz SE remained at No. 5. For UnitedHealth, 2017 earned premiums rose 9.95% to $158.45 billion.

When it reported 2017 results, UnitedHealth's chief executive officer said the group expected President Donald Trump's corporate tax reform bill to improve the company's earnings and cash flows in 2018 by $1.7 billion.

The boost comes after an estimated $400 million to $500 million reduction in premium revenues due to minimum loss ratio and lower net health insurance fee recapture effects, said David S. Wichmann, CEO of UnitedHealth Group, in an earnings conference call at the time.

As a result of the change to the U.S. corporate tax law, UnitedHealth increased its outlook for 2018, saying it expected cash flows from operations in 2018 to range from $15 billion to $15.5 billion. The company expects its tax rate to be around 24%. For the full-year 2017, UnitedHealth Group's net earnings rose 5% to $10.82 billion. Full-year revenue jumped 9% to $201.2 billion.

In fiscal 2017, Ping An's NPW rose 30.08%, while that of China Life rose 14.41%. Net premiums written for Axa fell 1.28% in 2017, while that of Allianz rose 1.40%. Three of the top five insurers—Axa, Ping An and Allianz—are multiline companies.

Ping An's move into the top five makes it the second Chinese insurer to make that group. Three of the top 10 insurers by premiums in 2017 are China-based, the same three that made the top 10 in 2016. In addition to China Life and Ping An, People's Insurance Company (Group) of China Ltd. remains at No. 10.

Among insurers ranked by premium that have climbed furthest from the previous year, Centene Corp. rose from No. 25 to No. 18; Berkshire Hathaway Inc. rose from 16th to 11th place; and Prudential plc rose from 18th to 13th place.

Although UnitedHealth remained top, among the insurers that fell farthest in terms of premiums are three other health insurers—Anthem Inc., Aetna Inc. and Humana Inc. Anthem fell from fourth to sixth place. Aetna fell to No. 14 from No. 11 and Humana fell from 13th to 15th place.

Also among those that saw NPW fall are Zurich Insurance Group Ltd., which went to 23rd from 20th, and Japan Post Insurance Co. Ltd., to No. 25 from No. 19.

Measured by 2017 net nonbanking assets, all of the top five insurers remained as part of that group, although MetLife dropped to No. 5 from its top position in 2016. Allianz SE moved to the top slot from No. 3 and Axa S.A. again remained in its No. 2 spot.

Prudential Financial Inc. advanced one slot to No. 3 and Japan Post Insurance Co. Ltd. moved to No. 4 from No. 5.

When MetLife released its 2017 results in February 2018, its chief executive officer said the life insurance group had an “operational failure” as it increased its reserves by $510 million pretax after a review found deficiencies in the way it looked for unresponsive annuitants.

MetLife looked back 25 years and found about 13,500 annuitants who didn't receive benefits.

The company will begin their payments once the annuitants elect to do so and will pay interest on back payments, Steven A. Kandarian, chairman, president and CEO, said in a conference call at the time.

“Simply put, this is not our finest hour,” Kandarian said. “We had an operational failure that never should have happened, and it is deeply embarrassing.”

The charge relates to group annuity business going back decades. Some people in pension plans had earned a benefit but were years or decades away from retirement and had often left their companies. In the 1990s, MetLife began releasing reserves when the company couldn't establish contact with an annuitant after two tries.

For the full year in 2017, MetLife's net income climbed to $3.64 billion from $627 million a year earlier. Premiums increased 3% to $45.84 billion. Total revenues rose 2% to $62.09 billion.

Top gainers by assets include Ping An, which rose to 13th from 18th place; and CNP Assurances, which rose to No. 16 from No. 19. Another French company, Credit Agricole Assurances, rose to No. 20 from No. 22.

Insurers that slid more than one notch by assets from the previous year are American International Group Inc., which fell to 18th from 14th place; and Aegon N.V., to No. 19 from No. 17.


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David Pilla is a news editor at BestWeek. He can be reached at

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