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The need to protect individuals against unexpected financial losses from unforeseen events dates back to ancient civilization itself.

Back in the 16th century, when sailing was the only mode of transport for people to move from one country to another, marine insurance was offered to provide financial aid to their loved ones in case they suffered a major injury or death.


Insurance today

Over the years, the field of insurance has gone through enormous changes and branched out into different specializations. Today, we have insurance for losses due to fire, burglary, disability, health problems, and motor accidents – most of them come in pretty attractive plans.


On the flip side, there is also something called genetic discrimination where people are treated differently by their employers or insurance agents because they stand a higher risk of developing a certain disease. It makes sense to find out whether you need to go for genetic testing or not as that plays a major role in determining your premium.


Let’s take a look at how it all started.



Marine insurance is the earliest recognizable insurance of them all. Although they are said to have gained popularity in the 16th century, the early forms of marine insurance policies date back to the 13th century when they were offered to people in the Italian states of Palermo and Genoa. Around the same period, the insurance was also made available to people in countries like Spain and France. The High Court of the Admiralty of England records shows that marine insurance was availed by its people in 1547.



International business

The sale of insurance picked up in London in 1574 when over 30 agents went on explaining the benefits to the local merchants who frequently traveled by water. It is believed that the 16th century marked the beginning of a booming insurance market in London. Over the next century, there was already heavy competition among sellers as the demand for marine insurance rose to an all-time high particularly among the residents of Hamburg, Amsterdam, and Antwerp.


By 1712, there was a group of insurance underwriters called Lloyds,   located in the coffee shop of Edward Lloyd, their office. In the next few years, the outlet became a common place to trade marine insurance.


In 1719, the local insurance market opened up to overseas clients traveling to London, and there were over 150 foreign insurance customers purchasing policies worth several million pounds.


Corporate bodies

In 1720, the popularity of marine insurance in Europe spread over to the corporate bodies with prominent clients being members of the London Assurance and the Royal Exchange Assurance. However, once the big dogs entered the market, no other corporate body was allowed to write marine insurance until 1824. In turn, this increased the popularity and demand for marine insurance in the neighboring countries.


Quick Fact: Indemnity Mutual Marine Assurance Company was the first UK Company to conduct marine business after the end of the monopoly of the London Assurance and Royal Exchange Assurance.





Despite being preceded by marine insurance, fire insurance was the first of its kind to attain corporate status. The early fire insurance companies were set up in England, and then in Germany in 1623, with the first company named the Great Werder Fire Fund.


In 1681, the Fire Office set up by Dr. Nicholas Barbon was one of the most recognized companies dealing with fire insurance. Then came another by Friendly Society a couple of years later. By 1720, Hand-in-Hand Fire & Life Insurance Society joined the insurance bandwagon offering fire insurance to its residents.


However, the early fire insurance players set up around 1708 would offer policies only to buildings in London and it was only in 1710 that they started offering fire insurance to establishments outside London. A wild expansion took place in the mid-19th century, thanks to insurance companies like Phoenix Fire Office, which offered attractive policies to established premises in Britain and selected agencies in the neighboring cities.


Decades later, the popularity of fire insurance spread over to other European countries. The New Zealand Insurance Company, set up in 1859, was the first fire insurance company to be established in the country.



Life insurance policies aren’t new either. They came into existence way back in the late 16th century with the earliest record dating back to 1588 when they were issued in countries like France and Netherlands.

However, life insurance to corporate bodies was issued much later. In 1699, England of the Society of Assurance was the first to offer life insurance to widows and orphans and the Amicable Society soon followed suit in 1706. The early players offered life insurance to people aged between 12 and 45.


Because people outside the eligible age group were denied insurance; James Dodson developed a new rating system to offer policies to everyone based on the insurers’ age and life expectancy. However, the premium was high for people falling outside the eligible age group. In turn, this led to the birth of the Society for Equitable Assurances on Lives and Survivorships which offered insurance to everyone under different plans based on various health-related parameters.


Until the mid-19th century, the number of people who had life insurance was significantly less when compared to other insurance plans. However, life insurance plans were very popular among working professionals, landowners, and commercial outlet owners. Provident Clerks’ Mutual Benefit Association was the first to launch UK group life assurance scheme in 1846. The premiums were attractive, and in turn, this paved way for business owners providing life insurance to their employees.


In 1852, the Family Friendly Society launched life insurance policies for industrial establishments and focused on providing life cover in affordable weekly installment plans. This move is said to have encouraged industrial owners to opt for life insurance plans for their workers.



That's in brief about the birth and evolution of insurance. Decades have passed and today we have thousands of companies offering attractive insurance plans to help protect individuals and companies against unexpected financial losses due to unforeseen events.