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Dive into Berkshire Hathaway's 2023 insurance turnaround after a challenging 2022. Discover how strategic acquisitions, meticulous underwriting, and the power of 'float' propelled the conglomerate to record profits and set a new benchmark in the industry.

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In the ever-evolving landscape of the global insurance industry, 2023 marked a year of triumphant return to form for Berkshire Hathaway, a conglomerate that has long been synonymous with insurance prowess and financial acumen. Under the stewardship of Warren E. Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway not only celebrated record profits but also showcased an underwriting success that has become a benchmark in the sector. The roots of this success can be traced back to a pivotal moment in 1967, with the acquisition of National Indemnity, a move that solidified Berkshire's significant presence in the insurance industry 4.

Warren Buffett, renowned for his strategic foresight, has always emphasized the dual nature of Berkshire's insurance operations: underwriting and investing. This approach has not only distinguished Berkshire in the marketplace but has also underscored the importance of 'float'—premiums collected before claims are paid out, which can be invested to generate income. The concept of 'float' has been a cornerstone of Berkshire Hathaway's growth and investment strategy, propelling the company to new heights over the years 4.

However, the journey has not been without its challenges. Regulatory changes, economic conditions, and catastrophic events have continually tested the resilience and adaptability of the insurance industry. In response, Berkshire Hathaway has strategically maneuvered through these complexities with acquisitions and operational adjustments that have fortified its market position. As we delve into the detailed performance of Berkshire Hathaway's insurance underwriting in 2023, we uncover the strategic decisions and innovations that have contributed to its success, offering valuable insights for shareholders and industry observers alike.

Berkshire Hathaway's Insurance Empire

At the heart of Berkshire Hathaway's success lies its expansive insurance empire, a global network of operations that has grown both in scale and scope over the years . By the end of 2023, the conglomerate's insurance and reinsurance businesses employed approximately 43,000 people, a testament to its vast reach and operational capacity 5:

Berkshire Hathaway Insurance Subsidiary Employees
GEICO 30,584
Berkshire Hathaway Reinsurance Group 848
General Re 2,185
Berkshire Hathaway Homestate Companies 1,206
Berkshire Hathaway Specialty 1,641
Berkshire Hathaway GUARD Insurance Companies 1,098
MedPro Group Inc. 1,283
MLMIC Insurance Companies 235
National Indemnity Primary Group 1,550
United States Liability Insurance Companies 1,175
Alleghany 1,385
Central States Indemnity 20
Total 43,210

This empire encompasses major insurance subsidiaries such as GEICO, Berkshire Hathaway Primary Group, and Berkshire Hathaway Reinsurance Group, each playing a pivotal role in the conglomerate's overarching strategy.

The strategic acquisition of Alleghany Corporation on October 19, 2022, further expanded Berkshire Hathaway's insurance operations. Alleghany's integration brought under its umbrella key players in property and casualty reinsurance and insurance, alongside non-insurance businesses. This move not only diversified Berkshire's portfolio but also enhanced its competitive edge in the market 1.

Berkshire Hathaway's global footprint extends beyond the United States, with subsidiaries and branches in various countries, each navigating differing regulatory requirements. In anticipation of Brexit, Berkshire Hathaway European Insurance DAC in Ireland was established to ensure continued operations within the EU, demonstrating the conglomerate's agility in adapting to geopolitical shifts 1.

Navigating the complex regulatory environment is a critical aspect of Berkshire Hathaway's insurance operations. The conglomerate operates within a framework of regulatory oversight worldwide, adhering to the standards set by bodies such as the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) and the International Association of Insurance Supervisors (IAIS). This adherence ensures that Berkshire's insurance companies maintain capital strength at exceptionally high levels, with a combined statutory surplus of approximately $303 billion at the end of 2023, underpinning the financial stability and reliability that are hallmarks of Berkshire's insurance offerings 1.

Moreover, Berkshire Hathaway's insurance companies are distinguished by their top-tier ratings, with major subsidiaries rated AA+ by Standard & Poor’s and A++ (superior) by A.M. Best. These ratings reflect the conglomerate's unwavering commitment to financial strength and underwriting excellence, further solidifying its position as a leader in the insurance industry 1.

The Terrorism Risk Insurance Program (TRIA) also plays a significant role in Berkshire's insurance strategy, providing federal reinsurance for certified terrorism losses. This program underscores the conglomerate's ability to navigate and leverage federal mechanisms to mitigate risks and protect its financial interests 1.

Berkshire Hathaway's insurance empire is a formidable force in the industry, characterized by its vast scale, strategic acquisitions, global reach, and regulatory acumen. As we explore the conglomerate's 2023 turnaround and the strategic adaptations that have fueled its success, it becomes evident that Berkshire Hathaway's insurance operations are not just about underwriting and investing but also about foresight, resilience, and the relentless pursuit of excellence.

The 2023 Turnaround

The year 2023 marked a significant turning point for Berkshire Hathaway's insurance operations, showcasing a remarkable recovery and demonstrating the conglomerate's resilience and strategic acumen in the face of industry challenges. With pre-tax underwriting earnings soaring to $6,913 million 3, Berkshire Hathaway not only reversed the previous year's losses but also set a new benchmark for its insurance segment's performance.

This turnaround was not a stroke of luck but the result of meticulous planning, operational efficiencies, and an unwavering commitment to sound underwriting principles. GEICO , a household name in auto insurance, emerged from a loss of $1,880 million in 2022 to report pre-tax underwriting earnings of $3,635 million in 2023 3. Similarly, Berkshire Hathaway Primary Group and Berkshire Hathaway Reinsurance Group showcased impressive gains, with their pre-tax underwriting earnings jumping to $1,374 million and $1,904 million, respectively 3.

The following table summarizes the results, dollars in millions 3:

2023 2022 2021
GEICO $ 3,635 $ (1,880) $ 1,259
Berkshire Hathaway Primary Group $ 1,374 $ 393 $ 607
Berkshire Hathaway Reinsurance Group $ 1,904 $ 1,465 $ (755)
Pre-tax underwriting earnings (loss) $ 6,913 $ (22) $ 1,111
Income taxes and noncontrolling interests $ 1,485 $ 8 $ 241
Total Net underwriting earnings (loss) $ 5,428 $ (30) $ 870

Several factors contributed to this remarkable turnaround. Firstly, the integration of Alleghany Corporation, acquired on October 19, 2022, played a pivotal role in bolstering Berkshire's insurance performance, adding significant value to both the Berkshire Hathaway Primary Group and Berkshire Hathaway Reinsurance Group 2. This strategic acquisition not only expanded Berkshire's insurance portfolio but also enhanced its underwriting capabilities and market reach.

Moreover, a reduction in catastrophe losses significantly impacted Berkshire's underwriting results positively 2. This decrease can be attributed to better risk assessment and management strategies, highlighting Berkshire's ability to adapt and respond to market dynamics effectively.

Central to Berkshire Hathaway's insurance philosophy is the rejection of inadequately priced risks, a principle that has ensured the conglomerate's long-term profitability and sustainability 1. This disciplined approach, coupled with an improved market environment and operational efficiencies, has been instrumental in achieving the 2023 turnaround.

Furthermore, changes in estimates for unpaid losses and the meticulous management of claims have also played a crucial role in enhancing underwriting results 2. These adjustments reflect Berkshire's commitment to accuracy and fairness in claims settlement, further solidifying its reputation for reliability and financial strength in the competitive insurance landscape.

The Power of Float

In the insurance world, "float" is a term that resonates with significance, especially for a conglomerate like Berkshire Hathaway. Float represents the funds an insurer collects from premiums, which are held to pay future claims. For Berkshire, this float has been a critical component of its growth strategy, allowing the conglomerate to invest these funds until they are needed for claims, thereby generating additional income.

From a modest $39 million in 1970, Berkshire Hathaway's float has witnessed an astronomical rise to $168,895 million by 2023 4:

Year Float (in millions)
1970 $ 39
1980 237
1990 1,632
2000 27,871
2010 65,832
2020 138,503
2022 164,109
2023 168,895

This staggering growth underscores the conglomerate's success in not only expanding its insurance operations but also in maintaining a stable float in relation to premium volume. Such stability is pivotal, as it ensures that Berkshire can meet its claim obligations without compromising its investment capabilities.

Berkshire Hathaway, under the strategic vision of Warren Buffett, has masterfully leveraged its float to make high-profile investments, contributing significantly to the conglomerate's overall success 6. The ability to use the float for investments in a wide array of assets, from equities to real estate, has been a key factor in Berkshire's financial strategy, enabling it to generate substantial returns over the years.

However, managing a large float comes with its challenges, especially in a volatile economic environment. It requires a delicate balance between ensuring sufficient liquidity to meet claim obligations and maximizing investment returns. Berkshire Hathaway's extreme fiscal conservatism, evidenced by its $167.6 billion cash stake, positions it well to navigate these challenges, providing a cushion against market fluctuations and ensuring the conglomerate's financial stability 6.

Warren Buffett's strategic vision in maximizing the utility of float for long-term growth has been nothing short of revolutionary. By treating the float as an interest-free loan that can be invested to generate income, Buffett has turned a conventional insurance industry concept into a powerful engine of growth for Berkshire Hathaway. This innovative approach to float management has not only propelled the conglomerate's growth but also set a benchmark for the industry, illustrating the profound impact of strategic vision and financial acumen on corporate success.

Regulatory Landscape and Strategic Adaptations

In the complex world of insurance and reinsurance, regulatory oversight forms the backbone of operational integrity and financial stability . Berkshire Hathaway, a conglomerate with a significant footprint in this sector, navigates a labyrinth of regulations across the globe. With insurance and reinsurance activities subject to regulatory oversight worldwide, the conglomerate employs a strategic approach to adapt and thrive under these conditions 1.

The Nebraska Department of Insurance stands out as the lead supervisor for Berkshire's insurance companies, playing a pivotal role in ensuring compliance and overseeing the conglomerate's adherence to regulatory standards 1. This state-level oversight is complemented by the efforts of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) and the International Association of Insurance Supervisors (IAIS), which are at the forefront of developing standards for large multinational insurance groups 1. These standards are not merely guidelines but are instrumental in shaping the operational and strategic frameworks within which Berkshire operates.

In response to these evolving standards, Berkshire Hathaway has demonstrated remarkable agility. The establishment of Berkshire Hathaway European Insurance DAC in Ireland post-Brexit is a testament to its strategic foresight. This move ensured Berkshire's seamless operation within the European Union, showcasing its ability to adapt to geopolitical changes with significant regulatory implications 1.

Moreover, the Terrorism Risk Insurance Program (TRIA) highlights another dimension of regulatory adaptation. With the federal government reimbursing insurers for a substantial portion of their insured losses in the event of a certified act of terrorism, Berkshire's approach to terrorism coverage is intricately aligned with regulatory provisions, balancing compliance with competitive positioning in the insurance industry 1.

Berkshire Hathaway's strategic adaptations to regulatory challenges underscore a delicate balance between compliance and competitive edge. By navigating the regulatory landscape with strategic foresight and operational agility, Berkshire not only adheres to the letter of the law but also leverages these regulations as a framework for innovation and competitive differentiation.

Investment Strategy and Financial Performance

At the heart of Berkshire Hathaway's success lies a distinctive investment strategy, spearheaded by none other than Warren E. Buffett, alongside Berkshire's corporate investment managers. This strategy, which differentiates between underwriting and investing, has propelled the conglomerate to record annual operating profits in 2023, with net income reaching an unprecedented $96.2 billion 6.

The insurance businesses, including GEICO, have been pivotal to this triumph, contributing significantly to the record profits achieved in 2023. This success is not merely a testament to the robustness of Berkshire's underwriting activities but also highlights the strategic acumen in leveraging the "float" - premiums collected before claims are paid - to generate substantial investment income 6.

Rising interest rates in 2023 further amplified Berkshire's investment income, particularly from its staggering $167.6 billion cash stake. This fiscal conservatism and strategic allocation of resources underscore a broader investment philosophy that prioritizes compound interest and the avoidance of permanent loss of capital 7. Buffett's emphasis on investing in sectors that are well-positioned to prosper in both good times and bad - such as railroads, electric utilities, and insurance companies - reflects a strategic approach that is both prudent and forward-looking 7.

Moreover, Berkshire's strategic investments, including the acquisition of Pilot Travel Centers for over $11 billion and a significant stake in Occidental Petroleum, illustrate a nuanced understanding of market dynamics and an unerring eye for value 7. This approach, characterized by a refusal to pay a premium for acquisitions while avoiding the allure of cheap, underperforming assets, has cemented Berkshire's position as a conglomerate capable of generating sustained, long-term value for its shareholders.

Berkshire Hathaway's investment strategy and financial performance in 2023 are a masterclass in strategic foresight, fiscal discipline, and operational excellence. Under the stewardship of Warren E. Buffett and his team, Berkshire has not only navigated the complexities of the regulatory landscape and the volatility of the markets but has also set a benchmark for financial performance that is both enviable and exemplary.

From Float to Fortune: Berkshire Hathaway's 2023 Insurance Triumph


In conclusion, Berkshire Hathaway's triumphant return to form in the insurance sector in 2023 is a testament to the conglomerate's resilience, strategic acumen, and unwavering commitment to excellence . The year marked a significant turnaround, with record profits and underwriting success that set a new benchmark for the industry. The strategic acquisitions, meticulous underwriting principles, and operational efficiencies that fueled this success underscore Berkshire's position as a leader in the global insurance landscape.

The insurance sector remains a cornerstone of Berkshire Hathaway's business model, with its vast empire encompassing key subsidiaries and operations worldwide. The conglomerate's strategic adaptations to regulatory challenges, investments in talent and technology, and commitment to underwriting excellence have positioned it for sustained growth and success.

The power of 'float' has been a driving force behind Berkshire's investment strategy, enabling the conglomerate to leverage premiums collected for future claims into substantial investment income. Warren Buffett's visionary leadership and investment philosophy have been instrumental in guiding Berkshire to record profits and sustained value creation for shareholders.

Looking ahead, the ongoing integration of Alleghany Corporation and the dynamic global market dynamics present both challenges and opportunities for Berkshire Hathaway's insurance operations. Shareholders are encouraged to consider the long-term implications of Berkshire's insurance underwriting success and investment strategy, recognizing the conglomerate's ability to adapt and thrive in a rapidly changing industry landscape.

In closing, Berkshire Hathaway's 2023 insurance triumph exemplifies the conglomerate's ability to navigate complexities, seize opportunities, and deliver exceptional results. As shareholders, industry observers, and stakeholders, we can look forward to a future marked by continued innovation, strategic growth, and unwavering commitment to excellence from Berkshire Hathaway in the insurance sector and beyond.

Appendix: Insurance - Investment Income

In addition to the underwriting results, insurance operations also resulted in investment income. Here's a quick summary 1:

  • Dividend income:
    • Declined by $539 million (8.9%) in 2023 compared to 2022
    • Increased by $979 million (19.3%) in 2022 compared to 2021
    • Variability due to changes in investment portfolio and timing of dividends
  • Interest and other investment income:
    • Increased by $4.4 billion in 2023 compared to 2022
    • Increased by $1.1 billion in 2022 compared to 2021
    • Primarily due to increases in interest rates and inclusion of interest income from Alleghany’s insurance subsidiaries
  • Float (invested assets of insurance businesses):
    • Components include unpaid losses, liabilities, premiums, receivables, and deferred costs
    • Float was $169 billion at December 31, 2023, see also table in the main text
    • Combined insurance operations generated pre-tax underwriting gains in 2023 and 2021, with a negative cost of float


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