Underwriting Cycle

What is 'Underwriting Cycle'

Fluctuations in the underwriting business over a period of time. A typical underwriting cycle spans a number of years, as market conditions for the underwriting business go from boom to bust and back to boom again.

At the beginning of the cycle, the underwriting business is soft due to increased competition and excess insurance capacity, as a result of which premiums are low. Subsequently, a natural disaster or other catastrophe that leads to a surge in insurance claims drives lesser-capitalized insurers out of business.

Decreased competition and lower insurance capacity lead to better underwriting conditions for the surviving insurers, enabling them to raise premiums and post solid earnings growth. This robust underwriting environment attracts more competitors, which gradually leads to more capacity and lower premiums, setting the stage for a repetition of the underwriting cycle.

Also known as the insurance cycle.

BREAKING DOWN 'Underwriting Cycle'

As with most business cycles, the underwriting cycle is a phenomenon that is very difficult to eliminate. In 2006, insurance giant Lloyd's of London identified managing this cycle as the top challenge facing the insurance industry and published a report by surveying more than 100 underwriters about industry issues. In response to their survey they were able to identify steps to manage the insurance cycle.

Unfortunately, the industry as a whole is not responding to the challenges the underwriting cycle brings. The underwriting cycle affects all types of insurance except life insurance, where there is enough information to minimize risk and reduce the effect of the underwriting cycle.