The United States suffered from weaker life insurance premium growth in 2004 than any other major life market in the Western Hemisphere.[@@]

Researchers at Swiss Reinsurance Company, Zurich, have published statistics supporting that conclusion in their annual world insurance market review.

The researchers found that overall world life premium revenue increased 2.3% between 2003 and 2004, to about $1.8 trillion, when expressed in terms of inflation-adjusted U.S. dollars.

But growth in life premium revenue lagged behind growth in world gross domestic product, which increased 4% in “real,” inflation-adjusted terms, to a total of $40 trillion.

The United States, which accounts for 27% of world life premium revenue, was partly to blame for the life industry’s sluggish 2004 performance: U.S. life premium revenue increased only 0.1%, to $495 billion.

The other countries in the Western Hemisphere that generate more than $1 billion in annual life premium revenue are Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile and Mexico. Inflation-adjusted, dollar-denominated life revenue growth rates in those countries ranged from 9.9% for Chile to 41% for Argentina.

Elsewhere in the world, changes in tax policies cut Russian life revenue 38%, to $3.5 billion, but many other Central and Eastern European markets reported strong premium growth. In Poland, for example, which ranks after Russia on Swiss Re’s list of European life markets, life revenue grew 11% in 2004, to $2.8 billion.

Although life premiums in the industrialized countries may grow only about 2% this year, growth could reach 8% in the “emerging markets,” the Swiss Re researchers predict.

“Given the willingness of some governments to offload pension liabilities from the fiscal budget, the future of pension business looks very promising,” the researchers write. “Furthermore, some governments are also cutting social security benefits (such as occupational disability benefits). Given this background, the growth outlook for private risk insurance products (such as term life, disability or critical illness) is also very positive.”