Difference Between Mutual & Reciprocal Insurance

by Andra Picincu - Updated September 20, 2018
Insurance advisor talking with customer in office

Today's business owners have access to more insurance products than ever before. Insurers are competing against each other and coming up with new offers tailored to the customer's needs. A small segment of this market appeals to high net-worth individuals and companies. It includes special policies, such as mutual and reciprocal insurance. As a business owner, it's important to know the ins and outs of these products so you can choose one that best meets your needs.

How Does Reciprocal Insurance Work?

If you're wondering which type of insurance is based on mutual agreements among subscribers, consider a reciprocal exchange. This form of insurance organization is owned by its policyholders and managed by an attorney-in-fact. Each member covers the risks of the other members. Policyholders protect each other in the event of a loss.

A reciprocal company is formed by bringing together an attorney-in-fact and a reciprocal exchange. The attorney runs the organization’s day-to-day operations and performs business transactions on its behalf. If one policyholder suffers a loss, an equal portion of that loss will be distributed to each member.

The main purpose of a reciprocal exchange is to offer lower costs for a group of policyholders known as "subscribers." This business model has been around since 1881, so it has stood the test of time. The organization is managed by a board of governors.

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Like everything else, reciprocal insurance has its drawbacks. First of all, conflicts may arise between subscribers. Secondly, not all policyholders can hold their promises. Additionally, the reciprocal exchange may be poorly capitalized, which leaves members exposed to claims not being paid.

What Is Mutual Insurance?

Another option that's worth considering is mutual insurance. This business model was created in the late 17th century in England. Its profits are either rebated to policyholders in the form of dividends or reduced premiums or retained within the organization.

Unlike a reciprocal exchange, mutual companies are owned by policyholders with similar insurance needs. They team up to mitigate risks and obtain lower premiums. These organizations range in size from small local companies to large entities. Most of them cover specific niches, such as healthcare, farming or real estate. For example, physicians and other medical professionals can form a mutual insurance company to provide coverage for its members.

This type of organization ensures that the benefits promised to its members can be paid over a long period. It acts in the best interest of policyholders, offering transparency and equal treatment. Members don't have to pay dividends to shareholders, which allows them to secure long-term profitability.

Mutual Versus Reciprocal Insurance

Even though mutual and reciprocal insurance companies share similarities, they operate differently. Both have the same purpose: to provide coverage at minimum cost to policyholders. The primary difference is that in reciprocal companies, the risk is transferred to the other subscribers. With mutual insurance, the risk is transferred to the organization.

Furthermore, mutual insurance appeals to niche markets. This means that its members focus on a single line of business. In general, these companies are formed by groups of professionals, such as doctors or attorneys. Reciprocal exchanges, by comparison, often have members with different professional backgrounds.

About the Author

Andra Picincu is a digital marketing consultant with over nine years of experience. She works closely with small businesses and large organizations alike to help them grow and increase brand awareness.

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