For the third consecutive year, total life insurance new annualized premium set a new sales record, rising 1% to $15.7 billion, according to LIMRA’s U.S. Life Insurance Sales Survey. Life insurers have the COVID-19 pandemic to thank for spurring underwriting changes that bolstered sales, said John Carroll senior vice president, head of Life & Annuities, LIMRA and LOMA.

“The pandemic spurred carriers to accelerate their digitization efforts, transforming the process of buying life insurance and improving the customer experience. This investment, coupled with a strong economy and high consumer interest, certainly contributed to the sales growth in 2023,” he said. “LIMRA is forecasting life insurance sales to normalize over the next few years, growing as much as 5% in 2024 and 2025.”

In the fourth quarter, total life insurance premium rose 4% to $4.2 billion, compared with prior year’s results. The number of policies sold increased 2%, largely driven by indexed universal life (IUL) and term policy sales. LIMRA broke sales figures down by product category:

Whole life

Whole life new premium fell 1% in the fourth quarter to $1.6 billion. A majority of whole life carriers reported declines in premium. The number of whole life policies sold fell 3% in the fourth quarter, compared with fourth quarter 2022.

In 2023, new premium was $6.1 billion, up 1% from prior year, and policy count increased 2%. For the year, whole life product sales represent the largest market share (measured by premium) at 39%. LIMRA is projecting whole life premium to grow as much as 5% in 2024 and as much as 6% in 2025.

Term life

Term life insurance new premium rose 6% in the fourth quarter to $745 million. Policy count grew 4% for the quarter. This is the fourth consecutive quarter of growth in both premium and policy sales. In 2023, term premium reached nearly $3 billion, 5% higher than 2022 results. Term policy count also grew in 2023, up 3% year over year. Term premium held 19% of the total U.S. life insurance market share in 2023.

“Inflation and unemployment pose a risk to term sales, especially to those in the middle market,” said Karen Terry, assistant vice president and head of LIMRA Insurance Product Research. “With inflation moderating and unemployment remaining below 4%, we are forecasting term product sales to normalize and growth to be between 1–3% in 2024 and 2025.”

Indexed universal life

Fourth quarter 2023 indexed universal life premium was $1.05 billion, 3% higher than results from prior year. Policy count increased 12% year over year. A majority of IUL carriers reported gains in both premium and policy count in the fourth quarter.

In 2023, IUL new premium fell 4% year over year to $3.7 billion. The number of policies sold rose 19%, compared with prior year. For the year, IUL premium represented 24% of total U.S. premium sold. LIMRA is forecasting IUL premium to increase as much as 4% in 2024.

Variable universal life

Variable universal life was the largest drive of premium growth in the fourth quarter. VUL new premium increased 11% in the fourth quarter to $536 million, driven by a small group of carriers. Policy count was up 9% for the quarter, compared with fourth quarter 2022.

VUL premium totaled $1.9 billion in 2023, an 8% jump from prior year results. For the year, policy sales dipped 1%, compared with 2022 results. VUL premium maintained 12% of the total U.S. life insurance market in 2023. Strong growth in the VUL market is expected to continue over the next two years with LIMRA forecasting double-digit growth in 2024 and 2025.

Fixed universal life

For the second consecutive quarter, fixed universal life new premium increased. In the fourth quarter, fixed UL new premium was $266 million, up 9% year over year. The number of policies sold fell 3% from fourth quarter 2022 results. Despite the strong growth in the fourth quarter, fixed UL new premium was $977 million, 3% below 2022 levels. Policy count also dropped in 2023, down 6%. Fixed UL premium held 6% market share in 2023.

“While we might expect rising interest rates to buoy fixed universal life insurance sales, we haven’t seen that response this year After more than a decade of ultra-low interest rates, many carriers have pivoted to focus on other product lines such as indexed and variable universal life,” noted Terry. “As a result, LIMRA is forecasting fixed UL premium to drop more than 10% in 2024 and as much as 8% in 2025.”

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