Aviva's archives reveal a 309-year history of life insurance

Article date: 27 August 2015

A trawl through Aviva’s archives has revealed some fascinating insights into the history of its protection products.

The fundamental principles of Aviva’s life insurance products have remained unchanged since the first policy was sold in 1706, based on “the very laudable principal of making a proper provision for a family which might suddenly be deprived of its support.”*

First policy:
Aviva’s life insurance business can be traced back to The Amicable Society, which claimed to be the oldest mutual life office in the world. On 5 August 1706, the first policy was taken out by Nathaniel Carpenter, a merchant who was 53 and lived in St Clements Lane, Lombard Street, London. The policy was for the benefit of his wife Sarah cost an annual sum of £6 and 14 shillings, equivalent to around £1,003** today.

First group scheme:
This was then followed by the first UK group life insurance scheme in 1846, established by the Provident Clerks’ Mutual Benefit Association. The scheme allowed companies to pay the premiums for providing life assurance to their employees as a benefit of employment. This made it possible for those outside the landed, professional and commercial classes to take advantage of life assurance and make provision for their families.

“A fairy in disguise”: how life insurance was marketed:
The archives also reveal some interesting ways in which protection insurance has been marketed over the last three centuries, with a Norwich Union staff magazine from 1891 referring to the company as “a fairy in disguise” and a life insurance policy as offering “provision instead of penury, prosperity instead of pinching.”
Other choice phrases describing life insurance include:

  • “… of singular use and relief to many families, by providing for great numbers of widows and orphans, who might probably be otherwise left wholly destitute” [Amicable Society charter, 1706.]
  • “affording a means of providing for the widow and the orphan, the aged and infirm” [Norwich Union prospectus, 1818.]
  • “it offers the means of indemnity against any pecuniary loss, claim or inconvenience” [Edinburgh Life Assurance prospectus, 1823.]

Daddy as the household protector
“Traditional” family set-ups were also clear in the early part of the 20th century when “Dad” was very much seen as the household breadwinner.

  • In 1923 a stern solicitor could be seen asking “What provision will you make for your wife?” in a Norwich Union advertisement.
  • The man of the house was still very much seen as the breadwinner in a 1935 marketing campaign where families were urged to think about what they would do, should anything happen to ‘Daddy’.
  • And this household set-up was still clearly apparent in the 1960s when another advert revealed a father pondering “What would you leave them? A house, or a mortgage?”

Louise Colley, managing director, protection for Aviva says: “It’s fascinating to see what an important role life insurance has played over the last three centuries, evolving from something only available to affluent members of society, to a product designed to protect people from all walks of life.

“A prospectus from 1823 advises that “the advantages of life assurance attach to every class of the community” - and this view still holds true today. At Aviva we believe that every family deserves protection, so it’s great to see that we’re continuing a legacy that started hundreds of years ago.”


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If you are a journalist and would like further information, please contact:  Sarah Poulter, Aviva Press Office : 01904 452828 : 07800 691569 : sarah.poulter@aviva.co.uk
Notes to editors:

Aviva has also insured the lives of a number of A-list historical figures, including prime ministers and members of the royal family: 

  • Queen Victoria
    Union Assurance sold a policy on the life of Queen Victoria in 1855. Norwich Union also sold a policy on her life in 1901.
  • Agatha Christie
    The best-selling author and creator of detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple took out life insurance with Norwich Union in 1959 under her married name, Agatha Mallowan.
  • Percy Bysshe Shelley
    The poet Percy Shelley’s life was insured with Norwich Union for £3,000 in July 1814. The original agent’s report for the policy still survives in the Aviva archives. It lists William Godwin, father of Shelley’s future wife Mary (author of Frankenstein), as one of the people willing to provide references for Shelley’s state of health.
  • David Lloyd George
    The British Prime Minister took out a life policy for £1,000 with Northern Assurance’s Birmingham branch in January 1895.

* Quoted in a 1775 Treatise on Assurance and Annuities, Charles Brand registrar of the Amicable Society.

** There was no specific amount insured for the first policy sold. Instead a maximum number of people were allowed to join the scheme - 2000 in the first year. If 2000 members joined then anyone who died in that year would receive a proportionate share of a sixth of the total premiums taken in. So if only one person in the scheme died, the beneficiary would receive a sixth of the total premiums. If lots of people died in the same year, beneficiaries would each receive a share of this money.

***Calculations based on multiplying the percentage increase in the RPI from 1706 to 2014.

About Aviva

Aviva provides life insurance, general insurance, health insurance and asset management to 34* million customers, across 16 markets worldwide

  • In the UK we are the leading insurer serving one in every four households and have strong businesses in selected markets in Europe, Asia and Canada. Our shares are listed on the London Stock Exchange and we are a member of the FTSE100 index.
  • Aviva’s asset management business, Aviva Investors, provides asset management services to both Aviva and external clients, and currently manages over £245 billion in assets.
  • Aviva helps people save for the future and manage the risks of everyday life; we paid out £24.6 billion in benefits and claims in 2014.
  • By serving our customers well, we are building a business which is strong and sustainable, which our people are proud to work for, and which makes a positive contribution to society.
  • The Aviva media centre at http://www.aviva.com/media/ includes company information, images, and a news release archive.
  • For an introduction to what we do and how we do it, please click here http://www.aviva.com/about-us/aviva/
  • For broadcast-standard video, please visit http://www.aviva.com/media/b-roll-library/
  • Follow us on twitter: www.twitter.com/avivaplc/

* Before the deduction of overlapping customers.

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