What Happened to Equitable Life Insurance Company? [2024]

In the world of insurance, Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States and Equitable Financial Life Insurance Company have both experienced significant ups and downs throughout their histories. From their beginnings as thriving insurance companies to facing challenges and controversies, these companies have had a profound impact on the industry. In this article, we will explore the journeys of Equitable Life Assurance Society and Equitable Financial Life Insurance Company, shedding light on the key events that shaped their paths.

Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States: A Legacy of Success and Diversification

The Early Years and Expansion

The Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States was established in 1859 by Henry Baldwin Hyde, a former cashier for Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York. With the support of his friends, Hyde founded Equitable as a joint-stock company, and it quickly gained momentum. In its first year, Equitable sold over $2.6 million worth of policies, signaling a promising start.

During the Civil War, Equitable experienced a surge in business as individuals sought insurance coverage to protect their families in the face of the conflict’s uncertainties. By 1865, Equitable had $27.6 million worth of coverage in force, solidifying its position as a leading life insurance company.

Global Expansion and Growth

Equitable recognized the potential of international markets early on and began selling policies overseas soon after its founding. By establishing a presence in Southeast Asia, Europe, the Middle East, South America, and Canada, Equitable expanded its reach and became a global player in the insurance industry.

Under the leadership of Henry Baldwin Hyde, Equitable experienced tremendous growth and surpassed Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York to become the largest life insurance company in the world in 1886. The company achieved this feat by selling $111.5 million worth of policies, resulting in a total coverage in force of $411.8 million. Equitable’s success attracted prominent figures such as Ulysses S. Grant and John Jacob Astor to serve on its board of directors.

Challenges and Reorganization

In the early 1900s, Equitable faced significant challenges that would test its resilience. A controversy arose in 1905 when James Hyde, son of Henry Baldwin Hyde, threw an extravagant party that raised suspicions of misusing company funds. This event, combined with a power struggle between Hyde and William Alexander, led to an internal review that uncovered financial irregularities and sloppy management practices within Equitable.

To address these issues, Equitable underwent a radical reorganization. Henry Hyde was forced to sell his substantial holdings in the company, and financier Thomas Ryan stepped in as the new owner. Paul Morton, a former secretary of the navy under Theodore Roosevelt, was appointed chairman, leading Equitable through a period of recovery and restoring public confidence.

Mutualization and Changing Times

Under the leadership of Paul Morton, Equitable weathered the storm and continued to thrive. However, in 1898, Henry Hyde retired, and his son James Hazen Hyde took over as vice president. Equitable faced its first major crisis when it was revealed that the company’s officers had made financial commitments beyond their means, resulting in a financial strain.

In response to the challenges, Equitable amended its charter and became a mutual company, giving policyholders the right to elect its directors. This move was initially proposed after the scandals of 1905 and gained traction through the efforts of influential figures like J.P. Morgan and Coleman DuPont. The mutualization marked a turning point for Equitable, solidifying its commitment to policyholders’ interests.

World Wars and Changing Landscape

Equitable faced the disruptive effects of the influenza epidemic in 1918, which resulted in significant death claims and financial losses. However, the company rebounded by investing heavily in war bonds during World War I. Equitable’s investment strategy shifted during World War II, as it ventured into large-scale housing development and real estate investments. The firm’s foray into housing development and acquisitions of properties proved beneficial as food and land prices began to rise post-war.

Equitable Financial Life Insurance Company: Challenges and Settlements

The Rise and Fall

Equitable Financial Life Insurance Company, founded in 1762, holds the distinction of being the oldest insurer in the United Kingdom. The company initially focused on providing insurance coverage and expanded its offerings to include pensions policies in 1913.

Equitable Financial Life Insurance Company gained popularity with its with-profits pension policies, which allowed policyholders to pool their money and receive regular bonus payments. However, the company encountered significant challenges when annuity rates in the market plummeted due to increasing life expectancies and lower returns on government bonds.

The Guaranteed Annuity Rates Controversy

To mitigate the uncertainty surrounding annuity rates, Equitable Financial Life Insurance Company introduced guaranteed annuity rates (GARs) as an additional option for policyholders. GARs provided a minimum annuity rate, regardless of market conditions at the time of purchasing an annuity.

Unfortunately, Equitable Financial Life Insurance Company’s expectations of high investment returns and annuity rates were not met. As a result, the cost of maintaining GAR policies became unsustainable for the company. In 1999, Equitable Financial Life Insurance Company sought a declaration to reduce the bonus paid on policies with GARs, leading to a legal battle that ultimately cost the company an estimated £1.5 billion.

Closure and Compensation

Unable to find a buyer to rescue the business, Equitable Financial Life Insurance Company closed to new business in 2000. Existing policyholders faced a significant reduction in the value of their policies, resulting in substantial financial losses.

Numerous investigations were conducted to examine the events surrounding Equitable Financial Life Insurance Company’s collapse. Reports from regulatory bodies, the Parliamentary Ombudsmen, and the Government shed light on mismanagement and regulatory failings. In 2010, the Equitable Life (Payments) Act established a £1.5 billion compensation scheme to provide restitution to affected policyholders.

Ongoing Controversies and Calls for Transparency

Despite the compensation scheme, concerns have persisted regarding the accuracy and transparency of the payments made to Equitable Financial Life Insurance Company policyholders. The accuracy of the Treasury’s calculations has been called into question, with instances of under-compensation and discrepancies in payments reported.

Campaigns for additional compensation and inquiries into the accuracy of payment calculations have been pursued by organizations such as the Equitable Members Action Group (EMAG) and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Justice for Equitable Life Policyholders. The transparency and fairness of the compensation process remain important issues for those affected by the Equitable Financial Life Insurance Company’s collapse.


The stories of Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States and Equitable Financial Life Insurance Company exemplify the complexities and challenges faced by insurance companies throughout their histories. From global expansion and diversification to controversies and legal battles, these companies have navigated turbulent waters.

The impact of their experiences has shaped the insurance industry and serves as a reminder of the importance of transparency, accountability, and fair treatment of policyholders. As the industry continues to evolve, lessons learned from the past can guide future practices and ensure the well-being of policyholders and insurers alike.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can I still access my Equitable Life policy?

Yes, policyholders can access information through the appointed receivership entity.

What reforms were implemented after Equitable Life’s demise?

Regulatory reforms aimed at improving transparency, risk management, and governance were introduced.

How did Equitable Life’s fall impact other insurance companies?

It prompted a widespread reassessment of risk management strategies and business practices.

Are there lessons for consumers in Equitable Life’s story?

Yes, consumers can learn the importance of researching and understanding the financial stability of their insurance provider.

How has the insurance industry evolved since Equitable Life’s downfall?

The industry has become more resilient, with a focus on customer protection and sustainable business practices.