Facts + Statistics: Distribution channels

Life insurance distribution channels

Life insurance was once sold primarily by career life agents, also known as captive agents, representing a single insurance company, and by independent agents, representing several insurers. Now, life insurance is sold directly to the public by mail, telephone, and the Internet. Independent insurance agents have the largest share of the market, followed by affiliated agents.




View Archived Graphs

Worksite marketing is the selling of voluntary (employee-paid) insurance and financial products at the worksite. The products may be sold individually or in groups, and policyholders usually pay premiums through periodic payroll deductions. Worksite sales of life and health insurance totaled $8.3 billion in 2021, up from $7.46 billion in 2020, according to Eastbridge Consulting Group.




View Archived Graphs

Annuity distribution

According to LIMRA Secure Retirement Institute, total U.S. annuity sales in 2021 increased 16 percent from 2020. Independent broker-dealers were the largest single distributor of annuities, with 27 percent of sales, higher than in 2017 when they accounted for 22 percent of the market. Independent agents accounted for the second-largest share of annuity sales by channel with 19 percent in 2021, about the same as 2017.

Sales Of Individual Annuities By Distribution Channels, 2017 And 2021


Source: U.S. Individual Annuities, GLIMPSE Quarterly Reports, LIMRA Secure Retirement Institute.

View Archived Graphs

Property/Casualty Insurance Distribution

Agency writers, whose products are sold by independent agents or brokers representing several companies—and direct writers, which sell their own products through captive agents by mail, telephone, or via the internet and other means—each account for roughly half of the property/casualty (P/C) market. There is a degree of overlap as many insurers use multiple channels.                  



AM Best organizes insurance into two main distribution channels: agency writers and direct writers. Its agency writers category includes insurers that distribute through independent agencies, brokers, general agents and managing general agents. Its direct writers category includes insurers that distribute through the internet, exclusive/captive agents, direct response and affinity groups.


  • In 2020 agency writers accounted for 53.8 percent of P/C insurance net premiums written and direct writers accounted for 45.8 percent, according to AM Best.*
  • In the personal lines market, direct writers accounted for 64.4 percent of net premiums written in 2020, and agency writers accounted for 35.5 percent. Direct writers accounted for 62.4 percent of the homeowners market, and agency writers accounted for 37.4 percent. Direct writers accounted for 65.5 percent of the personal auto market, and agency writers accounted for 34.5 percent.*
  • Agency writers accounted for 76.1 percent of commercial P/C net premiums written, and direct writers accounted for 23.1 percent.*

*Unspecified distribution channels accounted for the remainder.

  • There were an estimated 36,000 independent agencies in the United States in 2020 (latest data available), about the same as in 2018 when the previous study was conducted, according to the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America’s (IIABA) 2020 Agency Universe Study.
  • In 2020 small agencies (less than $150,000 in revenue) accounted for 32 percent of all agencies, and medium-small agencies (with $150,000 to $499,000 in revenue) accounted for 27 percent of all agencies. Medium agencies (with $500,000 to $1.25 million in revenue) accounted for 24 percent of all agencies. Large agencies (with $1.25 million to $9.9 million in revenue) held a 15 percent share of all agencies. Jumbo agencies that have revenues of $10 million and above accounted for 2 percent of all agencies.
  • The proportion of agencies in small towns and rural areas rose to 23 percent in 2020, up from 19 percent in 2018. Agencies in small metro areas also grew, to 15 percent of all agencies in 2020 from 9 percent in 2018. Agencies in medium metro areas remained at 21 percent but agencies in large metropolitan areas were down to 40 percent from 51 percent in 2018.
  • In 2020, 10 percent of the agencies in the study were involved in acquisitions, 1 percent merged with another agency, and 2 percent converted from exclusive or captive agencies to independent agencies.
  • About nine out of ten agencies are owned by principals, about the same proportion as in 2018.

Back to top