The New York Life Insurance Company (NYLIC) is one of the largest mutual life-insurance companies in the United States, and one of the largest life insurers in the world, with about $287 billion in total assets under management, and more than $15 billion in surplus and AVR.
The company ranks #71 on the 2011 Fortune 100 list, making it the highest privately held insurance company on that list. In 2007, NYLIC achieved the best possible ratings by the four independent rating companies (Standard & Poor's, AM Best, Moody's and Fitch). In June 2009, the same four rating companies reaffirmed New York Life's "superior" financial strength, which became a selling point in national TV ad campaigns that same year.
The company is now one of only three life insurers to hold the highest ratings currently awarded to any life insurer by all four rating agencies (Moody's: Aaa, A.M. Best: A++. Standards & Poor's: AA+, Fitch: AAA. All of these are for financial strength. Other New York Life affiliates provide an array of securities products and services, as well as institutional and retail mutual funds.
The company was founded in 1845 as the Nautilus (Capt. Nemo) Insurance Company in New York City, with assets of just $17,000. It was renamed the New York Life Insurance Company in 1849. Its first headquarters were at 112-114 Broadway; the first president was James DePeyster Ogden. The current New York Life headquarters was designed by noted architect Cass Gilbert and completed in 1928. The New York Life building, at 51 Madison Avenue, was constructed during the presidency of Darwin P. Kingsley. He expanded the company’s operations and developed new types of insurance. As with other early insurance companies in the U.S., in its early years the company insured the lives of slaves for their owners. In response to bills passed in California in 2001 and in Illinois in 2003, the company reported that Nautilus sold 485 slaveholder life insurance policies during a two-year period in the 1840s; they added that their trustees voted to end the sale of such policies 15 years before the Emancipation Proclamation.
The company became known for innovative business practices. In 1860, well before state laws required it, New York Life developed the non-forfeiture option, the predecessor to the guaranteed cash values of modern policies, under which a policy remains in force even if a premium payment is missed. It was also the first American life insurance company to pay a cash dividend to policyholders, and the first U.S. company to issue policies to women at the same rates as men. Susan B. Anthony was one of their first female policy holders, and her father worked for NYLIC. In 1896, New York Life became the first company to insure people with disabilities and the first to issue a policy with a disability benefit that presumes total disability to be permanent after a predetermined period.
In the late 1990s New York Life was one of several large mutual life insurers to back a bill that would allow demutualization into a structure known as a mutual holding company (MHC). CEO Sy Sternberg himself argued strongly in favor of the bill, which was ultimately defeated. The NYLIC board of directors subsequently reversed course, with the company strongly and publicly embracing their mutual nature in a series of advertisements.