How Do Insurance Companies Insure Themselves?

Insurance companies play a crucial role in the modern financial landscape, helping individuals, organizations, and communities mitigate the risks they face. 

Just as individuals and businesses purchase insurance to protect themselves against unforeseen losses, insurance companies also need protection. This protection is typically acquired through a process known as reinsurance.

1. Understanding Reinsurance

Reinsurance is, simply put, insurance for insurance companies. It allows insurers to transfer a portion of their risk portfolios to another entity. By doing this, insurance companies:

  • Reduce their exposure to large and catastrophic losses.
  • Stabilize their financial results by evening out the impacts of particularly good or bad years.
  • Increase their underwriting capacity, meaning they can write more policies.
  • Protect themselves from significant losses, ensuring they have the capital necessary to pay out on claims.

2. Types of Reinsurance

There are two primary types of reinsurance:

  • Facultative Reinsurance: This is a case-by-case agreement where the reinsurer assesses each individual policy (or risk) before deciding to accept or reject it. This approach is more flexible, but it’s also time-consuming and tends to be costlier.

  • Treaty Reinsurance: Here, the reinsurer agrees to accept all policies that fall within certain agreed-upon guidelines. This is more of a blanket agreement and can be subdivided further into proportional and non-proportional treaty reinsurance.

3. Proportional vs. Non-proportional Treaty Reinsurance

In proportional treaty reinsurance, both the original insurance company (the cedent) and the reinsurer share premiums and losses in a predefined proportion.

Non-proportional treaty reinsurance, on the other hand, works differently. The reinsurer only pays out if the cedent’s losses exceed a specified limit. This is often used for catastrophic events.

4. Retrocession

Retrocession is the process where reinsurers themselves seek out further insurance or reinsurance. Essentially, a reinsurer can pass on some of its risks to another reinsurer. This system creates a chain where risk is distributed across multiple entities, ensuring that the impact of large losses is spread out.

5. Captive Insurers

Some large corporations establish their own insurance companies to insure their risks—a process known as captive insurance. While these entities primarily exist to insure the risks of the parent organization, they too can purchase reinsurance to spread their risk.

6. Reinsurance Markets and Pools

Often, the volume and magnitude of risk associated with certain policies (like those related to natural disasters) are too much for any single insurer or reinsurer to handle. In such cases, multiple insurers and reinsurers come together to form a pool, collectively sharing the risk.

7. Importance of Reinsurance

The existence and proper functioning of the reinsurance market are vital for several reasons:

  • Stability: By distributing risk, reinsurance ensures that no single company is overly exposed to significant losses.

  • Capacity: With reinsurance, insurance companies can take on larger volumes of business, benefiting consumers and businesses by providing more options and potentially lower prices.

  • Global Reach: Reinsurance operates globally. An insurance company in one part of the world can have its risks backed by a reinsurer in a completely different region.


The concept of insurance companies insuring themselves may seem paradoxical at first, but it’s a fundamental aspect of the modern insurance industry. 

Reinsurance allows for the spread of risk across different entities and geographies, creating a more stable, efficient, and resilient insurance market for everyone.