The insurance sector covers a wide range of activities. From a technical point of view first of all, it covers areas that affect many aspects of our daily lives, such as property insurance (e.g. multi-risk home insurance, natural disasters), civil liability (e.g. motor insurance), health or provident insurance, or retirement and savings. From the customer’s point of view, the insured are individuals as well as professionals, small businesses or large groups (fleets, industrial risks, group insurance, etc.). Finally, from a commercial point of view, with intermediaries as diverse as salaried networks, insurance agents, brokers and service providers.
This diversity can be seen in the legal forms of the actors who provide coverage for these risks: public limited companies that pay a shareholder, mutual insurance companies under the Insurance Code, provident institutions under the Social Security Code or mutual insurance companies under the Mutual Code. Some are highly specialized, while others are highly diversified in terms of business, geographical scope and customer base.
The diversity of activities and players reflects the importance of insurance mechanisms in the operation of industrial and then post-industrial companies for the management of the risks they generate. These mechanisms, particularly in public and private insurance, are traditionally guided by principles of solidarity and a variety of pooling techniques.
In recent years, however, insurance seems to have undergone profound changes linked to the evolution of economic activities involving the emergence of new risks, but also to the maturity of technologies that call into question the principles of solidarity that were taken for granted and the techniques of mutualization.
The emergence of new risks can be measured at two levels;
Firstly, at the macroeconomic, or even planetary level: where Ulrich Beck spoke in the 1980s and 1990s of “risk” societies, for which this notion is becoming omnipresent, the academic literature sees the current era as that of the “Anthropocene” (Steffen, Crutzen, and McNeill 2007; Schuilenburg and Peeters 2017). The globalization of climate and environmental risks is accompanied by the recognition of their difficult mitigation (Bovari, Giraud, and Mc Isaac 2018).
At the microeconomic level, the digital revolution of recent decades has transformed behaviours and social relations. Driven by technology, the economy of sharing, for example, places usage at the heart of exchanges and challenges the centrality of property, a key notion of classical capitalism. It also implies the emergence of new risks, linked to technology itself, such as cyber-risk.
Big data technologies, which enable both the collection of mass data and its processing using increasingly high-performance algorithms, are completely overturning the insurance landscape. Indeed, with an increasingly fine granularity of available information, it is now possible to apply statistics at the individual level, a practice that was unthinkable in the previous period.