When researching insurance carriers, you may come across references to AM Best ratings for individual companies. You will often find specific rating information displayed on a carrier’s website or throughout a review for a particular insurance company. While the AM Best rating scale is a simple letter grade, the ratings indicate an enormous amount of information about an insurance company. The AM Best ratings have become a benchmark within the insurance industry and are a key indicator of the financial strength of a carrier.
What does AM Best do?
AM Best is a credit rating agency, and happens to be the oldest one in the world. Founded in 1899, the AM Best credit agency specializes in the insurance industry and only reviews insurance carriers. Fast forward to over 122 years later, the same agency that started with one person in a tiny New York office, has now grown into a global entity. AM Best’s world headquarters are located in New Jersey, with multiple offices all over the world.
However, AM Best offers much more than global offices. The AM Best rating scale provides a financial and credit snapshot of over 16,000 insurance companies. Without the AM Best ratings, it would be difficult for the general public to analyze and review all the financial and credit information for each of these thousands of companies. Instead, AM Best conducts the research and offers independent information and evaluation services for each one, so consumers can form their own opinions about a carrier’s financial stability. It is also recognized by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as an official credit rating provider.
What are AM Best ratings?
AM Best ratings are based on the carrier’s ability to pay out claims, the amount of debt a carrier holds and the amount of other financial obligations. AM Best completes this analysis by looking at the balance sheet, operating performance, business profile and debt obligations of the insurance company. AM Best ratings have four different categories: financial strength, credit ratings, issue ratings and national scale ratings. Most online reviews feature a company’s financial strength ratings (FSR).
In the insurance world, it is important to understand if a carrier can meet financial obligations of its policyholders. As a consumer, you expect a timely claim payout for covered perils when purchasing a policy. AM Best established its rating system to assess the likelihood a carrier can payout claims and meet other financial responsibilities. Behind each level of an assigned rating is a detailed, thorough analysis of numerous financial aspects within a carrier.
How AM Best ratings work
AM Best ratings are determined by a variety of factors, mainly focused on risk and financial management. All information is then compiled to assign a letter grade for creditworthiness and financial stability. Among the wide range of factors, AM Best uses findings from the following:
- Balance sheet: The balance sheet review includes an analysis of a carrier’s financial flexibility and risk analysis.
- Operational performance: This looks at the long-term financial stability of a carrier and the future balance sheet strength, plus the historical performance.
- Business profile: This is the in-depth review of the market position, competition, pricing and data quality, underwriting performance and many other critical business markers.
- Enterprise risk management (ERM): This looks at the appetite for risk and how the carrier manages risk based on the corporate objectives.
- Rating meetings: These meetings are used to uncover information for the carrier regarding company strategic goals, management practices and overall financial objectives.
AM Best rating scale for financial strength
The following table shows the differences between each rating. The rating scale for FSR uses the common grading method, with letters A through D. In addition to a letter grade, there may also be a “+” or “-” tacked on, called rating “notches.” The rating notches are used to show further strengths or weaknesses within the assigned category.
|Rating symbol||Rating notches||Category|
Over time, companies can receive additional rating notches or influence their rating grade. Suppose there is an update in debt obligations, company strategy, operations or other financial indicators highlighting the financial health of a carrier. In either of those cases, the ratings can change to reflect the movement.
AM Best financial strength ratings for top providers
Below is a chart featuring AM Best rating information for several national carriers. When you are determining which carrier to purchase a policy from, it is helpful to look at the features and rates it offers as well as consider financial strength.
|Insurance company||AM Best rating|
|State Farm||A++ (Superior)|
|Liberty Mutual||A (Excellent)|
Why AM Best scores matter
Although the AM Best scores provide a simple method of assessing the financial strength of a carrier, it does not guarantee the carrier can meet all financial obligations. A carrier must pay rating fees to receive the full rating service from AM Best and the process typically takes 11-14 weeks to complete. Because the ratings take into account previous financial performance, it can be difficult for a new company to establish a rating, which means it may be years before a carrier can be rated. Although AM Best may be the oldest credit rating service, it is one of many, with other agencies such as Standard and Poor’s, Moody’s or Fitch providing their own analyses.
Without the help of AM Best ratings, it might be fully up to the consumer to analyze the financial picture of each insurance carrier. Understanding a carrier’s ability to payout claims and meet the financial obligations may give you added confidence or hesitation when choosing a company. Ultimately, AM Best is one of the numerous tools available to consumers to find the best carrier for their insurance needs.