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Direct-to-consumer sales drive growth in whole life policy sales.  

WINDSOR, Conn. March 18, 2021—While total life insurance new annualized premium fell 3% in 2020, the number of policies sold in 2020 increased 2% for the year, driven by strong whole life and term sales, according to LIMRA’s U.S. Individual Retail Life Insurance Sales Survey.

“In 2019, fourth quarter premium jumped 15% ahead of the mandatory adoption of the 2017 CSO tables and principle-based reserving that would be implemented on January 1. said Elaine Tumicki, corporate vice president and director of LIMRA’s Insurance Product Research. “As a result, LIMRA projected overall premium to normalize in 2020 even before the pandemic. COVID-19 introduced additional operational challenges for carriers and distribution that were unexpected and impacted UL sales significantly.”

In the fourth quarter, total life insurance new premium dropped 8%, compared with the record-breaking sales results in fourth quarter 2019. Total policy sales were up 2% in the fourth quarter.

Term new premium increased 4% in the fourth quarter and ended the year 4% above 2019 sales results. Six out of the top 10 writers reported increases for the year. Term policy count was 5% higher in the quarter than prior year and 7% higher in 2020, compared with 2019. This is the highest annual policy sales growth for term since 1999.

In the fourth quarter, whole life (WL) sales were strong. WL new premium rose 5% and experienced the largest growth in absolute dollars, led by agency-building distribution. WL new premium increased slightly for the year, up 1%, compared with 2019 sales.

WL policy sales — driven by policies purchased directly from the manufacturer — grew 2% in the fourth quarter and 1% for the year. Direct-to-consumer WL policy sales grew 14% for the quarter and 17% in 2020. Direct-to-consumer (D2C) WL sales represented the highest number of WL policies purchased in 2020.

”COVID-19 raised consumers’ awareness of the need for life insurance protection. Generally speaking, consumers look to whole life and term products to satisfy their basic protection needs,” noted Tumicki. “Thanks to carriers’ efforts to expand simplified underwriting and online sales during the pandemic, when traditional methods were unavailable, we saw strong D2C growth of whole life and term products.”

Universal life (UL) new premium plummeted 25% in the fourth quarter 2020, compared with prior year results. Half of 10 companies reported double-digit declines in UL premium for the quarter. In 2020, UL new premium declined 13%, compared with 2019 results.

Fixed (non-indexed) UL sales fell 46% in the fourth quarter and 27% for the year. Fixed UL was the primary driver of the decline in overall UL premium. A combination of low interest rates and carriers exiting the market contributed to the drop in sales.

Indexed UL (IUL) new premium was 16% lower in the fourth quarter 2020 than the record-breaking results in the fourth quarter of 2019. For the year, IUL new premium slipped 7%, compared with 2019 figures. The inability to meet face-to-face and conduct traditional underwriting because of social distancing measures, in addition to product changes such as cap and participation rate reductions, challenged IUL sales in 2020.

Overall UL policy sales fell 8% in the fourth quarter, and 8% for the year.

In the fourth quarter, variable universal life (VUL) premium ticked up 1%, propelled by protection-focused product sales. Less than 10 carriers reported increases in the fourth quarter. In 2020, VUL new premium jumped 6%, compared with 2019 results. VUL policy sales increased 5% in the fourth quarter, and 2% for the year.

LIMRA’s Fourth Quarter 2020 U.S. Individual Life Insurance Sales Survey represents approximately 80% of the U.S. individual life insurance annualized premium market.

The latest data table and additional statistics on U.S. life insurance sales trends can be viewed in the newly updated Fact Tank.


About LIMRA® 
Serving the industry since 1916, LIMRA helps to advance the financial services industry by empowering nearly 650 financial services companies in 51 countries with knowledge, insights, connections, and solutions. Visit LIMRA at

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