Reinsurance may sound like a foreign term to those unfamiliar with the reinsurance industry, but it's really just a way for insurance companies (insurer or ceding company) to spread the risk by transferring a portion of its financial obligations to another party (reinsurer).
While most consumers are familiar with "insurance," few are acquainted with the term "reinsurance." Insurance is a means by which the risk of a loss to an insurance company is spread over large numbers of insureds exposed to a loss. Reinsurance is the secondary market in the insurance industry-it is insurance for insurance companies and provides a mechanism to transfer the insurance risk from one insurer to another.
Insurance companies use reinsurance to provide protection against large individual losses or an accumulation of losses arising from one event and to provide protection against annual aggregate claim experience that may exceed actuarial projections. Basically, insurance companies want to protect themselves from unexpected loss development, so they buy "reinsurance." Further, insurance in the US is regulated at the state level. As such, insurance companies are permitted to issue policies up to a maximum percentage of their net worth. Once that maximum percentage has been reached, an insurer wanting to write additional business can increase its capacity to issue insurance policies by purchasing reinsurance.
Under a "reinsurance agreement," the ceding company and the reinsurer enter into a contract that stipulates the calculation and terms of payment for premiums due to the reinsurer and conditions upon which the reinsurer will be responsible for its share of claims. The terms of the contract are negotiated up front by the ceding company and the reinsurer, often with the assistance of an intermediary or broker. This broker earns a brokerage fee based on the premiums charged to the insurer and will assist in reporting and settlement of monies between both parties.
There are two general types of reinsurance agreements: Facultative Reinsurance and Treaty Reinsurance. Facultative Reinsurance agreements are designed to reinsure individual risks and are purchased on a per-policy basis. Facultative Reinsurance is typically used for large or unusual risks that an underwriter may want to specifically exclude from a Treaty Reinsurance agreement. Treaty Reinsurance agreements are designed to reinsure a group of policies that are specifically defined in the terms of the agreement.
Reinsurance plays an important role in the insurance industry, providing additional capacity to insurers and protection to insurers, which would otherwise not be available.