#57 | Settling on Settlements

No part of our industry has been as contentious as life settlements, but the irony is that the life insurance industry arguably began as speculation on the mortality of others. Morton Keller points out that “wager policies, where one could insure the life of another without the insured’s knowledge, spread rapidly throughout the 16th and 17th centuries.” The practice wasn’t significantly curtailed until 1774, when “an antigambling act required that the policyholder have an insurable interest in the…person underwritten.” Raw speculation gave way to “a more rational system of life insurance,” but the idea of speculating on lives continued in more palpable form of life settlements. Burton Hendrick recounts famed life insurance reformer Elizur Wright’s mid-1800s trip to the Royal Exchange in England, where he saw “an auction upon life-insurance policies…which took place every Thursday afternoon.” He found that “a considerable part of the speculative public made fortunes in this way.”