It is believed that the first form of insurance policy can be found as far back in history as 1750 BC, carved on a Babylon monument with the code of King Hammurabi etched in it. This ancient law offered basic insurance to debtors in case something bad happened to them, like death, floods, disability,... In that case, they didn’t have to pay back their loans.
Life insurance might seem like something modern and new, but in fact, life insurance dates back to the ancient Greeks and Romans – around 600–100 BC. The idea of some kind of protection for their soldiers was initiated by Roman military general Gaius Marius, who reputedly came up with the concept for the so-called “burial club” for his fellow soldiers. It was meant to help families of soldiers who were killed in military campaigns. After the war, the survivors would congregate and pay for the funeral expenses. Since the Romans believed that anyone who was improperly buried became a troubled spirit, the concept was quickly adopted and soon, many similar clubs were created and were fully operational until around 450 AD – the fall of the Roman Empire.
However, we consider a café at London’s Tower Street, where Edwards Lloyd’s Coffee House stood, to be the birthplace of modern insurance policies. In 1688, that was the place to go in London if you were in the sailing industry, as you could get fresh news about sailing and the exploration of the new world. In this café, the modern concept of an insurance company was born. With time, Lloyd’s cafe became what we know today as Lloyd’s of London, one of the biggest insurance companies in the world.
What Do Life Insurance and Halley's Comet Have in common?
The first written life insurance policy was created on 15 June 1583, but the first attempts to implement it ended in bankruptcy of the insurance companies, as they didn't know how to properly assess the risks. However, that changed in 1693, when a mathematician and astronomer named Edmund Halley developed the very first modern mortality table. Today, Edmund Halley is mostly known because of the comet that was named after him - Halley’s comet.
The Government’s Reaction to Life Insurance
It wasn’t until 1774 that the government of Great Britain decided to adopt the law known as the Life Assurance Act (also known as the Gambling Act 1774), which prevents corruption by insurance agents against their clients.
The Church's Reaction to Life Insurance
In the New World, which is known today as America, it was mostly the churches that controlled life insurance. In 1759, they founded the first life insurance company in the New World, named Presbyterian Ministries Fund. But there were many tensions among clerics, who argued that life insurance might be a form of gambling. At that time, you could take out a policy on the life of a rich person, hoping they would die prematurely, in which case you would be getting the sum lump.
Life Insurance Today
Today, it seems that the whole industry has moved online, as it is very easy to get various free quotes, and sole application processes are as simplified and fast as possible. We don’t need to worry about payouts anymore, as even the insurance companies themselves have reinsurers for the protection of your investment. Well over 90% (namely, up to 99%) of claims are paid every year by insurance companies.
A lot has changed in all these centuries, but the original idea of a financial safety net in case of unforeseen circumstances remains throughout history.