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Analyzing Firm Performance in the Insurance Industry Using Frontier Efficiency Methods

John Cummins () and Mary Weiss

Center for Financial Institutions Working Papers from Wharton School Center for Financial Institutions, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract: In this introductory chapter to an upcoming book, the authors discuss the two principal types of efficiency frontier methodologies - the econometric (parametric) approach and the mathematical programming (non-parametric) approach. Frontier efficiency methodologies are discussed as useful in a variety of contexts: they can be used for testing economic hypotheses; providing guidance to regulators and policymakers; comparimg economic performance across countries; and informing management of the effects of procedures and strategies adapted by the firm. The econometric approach requires the specification of a production, cost, revenue, or profit function as well as assumptions about error terms. But this methodology is vulnerable to errors in the specification of the functional form or error term. The mathematical programming or linear programming approach avoids this type of error and measures any departure from the frontier as a relative inefficiency. Because each of these methods has advantages and disadvantages, it is recommended to estimate efficiency using more than one method.

An important step in efficiency analysis is the definition of inputs and outputs and their prices. Insurer inputs can be classified into three principal groups: labor, business services and materials, and capital. Three principal approaches have been used to measure outputs in the financial services sector: the asset or intermediation approach, the user-cost approach, and the value-added approach. The asset approach treats firms as pure financial intermediaries and would be inappropriate for insurers because they provide other services. The user-cost method determines whether a financial product is an input or output based on its net contribution to the revenues of the firm. This method requires precise data on products, revenues and opportunity costs which are difficult to estimate in insurance. The value-added approach is judged the most appropriate method for studying insurance efficiency. it considers all asset and liability categories to have some output characteristics rather than distinguishing inputs from outputs.

In order to measure efficiency in the insurance industry in which outputs are mostly intangible, measurable services must be defined. The three principal services provided by insurance companies are risk pooling and risk-bearing, "real" financial services relating to insured losses, and intermediation. The authors discuss how these services can be measured as outputs in value-added analysis. They then summarize existing efficiency literature.

Date: 1998-07
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