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Best Life Assurance

Assessing the costs and investment record of life assurance funds.

Assuming you’ve already picked the right type of policy (already an achievement), the best life assurance policy will be one with low entry fees (unitised policies have setup and admin fees to worry about), and good bonuses- in particular compound bonuses can be particularly valuable. And check past performance to see how well your life fund is managed.

The best life assurance isn’t necessarily the cheapest, but the one that’s right for your needs- and there are plenty of policy types to choose from. Although “assurance” and “insurance” are often used interchangeably, “assurance” technically refers to whole of life policies- policies which cover your whole life and will definitely pay out (because alas you know you’ll definitely die sometime!)

Life assurance splits out into many products again, and to get the best life assurance you need to understand them. You can pick up whole life policies which offer a specific guaranteed fixed return.

Or you can opt for a policy which includes an investment element. There are two types: with-profits policies and unitised policies; but here we will only consider with-profits policies. In a with-profits policy, the life company’s success is shared not just amongst the shareholders, but also partly given back to the policyholders. This benefit appears in the form of a “bonus”- an increased amount to the sum assured. You don’t get some sort of cashback; rather when the policy matures the benefits will be a little bit greater.

To get the best life assurance you need to wade through plenty of information about bonuses and the way they’re applied (for example normal bonuses are allocated annually, but there are also “terminal” bonuses which are only applied upon maturity). There are huge differences in the ways life offices calculate bonuses; for example simple bonuses are lumps of money, but compound bonuses, rather like compound interest on a debt, stack up faster.

And finally of course, to get the best life assurance policy you’d better keep an eye on the stockmarket- in the past few years the life market has taken some heavy beatings, and if a life company doesn’t perform well, you won’t get any bonuses! By the way, if the value of the life office goes down, your policy is not at risk (only the bonus is). With that heavy beating, there’s a major trend now towards companies only offering unit-linked policies or a hybrid called a unitised with-profits policy; but the logic of bonuses and the difference between guaranteed return and investment-based policies still stands.

Because of the (possible) extra benefits, with-profits policies cost a little more than fixed-return policies. So for the best life assurance, don’t think in terms of premium costs, think in terms of benefits (who gets what when you die) and investment (whether you’d like a bit more for your premium!)