Bet Against Someone’s Life and Death with Extreme Mortality Bonds

After the events in Belgium, this post seems in poor taste – but I promise it was written before the tragic events at the beginning of the week, and still offers something interesting.


Did you know you could effectively bet that someone won’t lose their life in a catastrophe? And if they don’t – you could make a substantial amount of money?

Insurance companies know this – and they’re prepared to offer you a once in a lifetime (literally) opportunity to buy an EMB, an Extreme Mortality Bond.

Extreme mortality events are events that result in a substantial loss of life (a natural disaster, a plague, etc.). Although extreme mortality events tend to be relatively rare, they are something that insurance companies need to prepare for. For most policyholders, the expected morality rate is very low (usually less than 10%), but if an insurance company promises to insure ten lives for $1,000,000 each, they need to be prepared to pay out $10,000,000 (or whatever is left after monthly insurance payments) if an extreme mortality event occurs.

So the companies turn to the capital markets to transfer that risk through bonds. Extreme mortality bonds. A bond is essentially (in this case) a credit card that the insurance company prays it won’t have to use, but needs just in case. The investor who buys the bond gets yields in the form of interest for every year the insurance company holds the bond. In the event an extreme mortality event occurs, the investor has to pay out (yes, even $10,000,000). Extreme mortality bonds are considered high yield debt instruments because they are essentially a debt that the insurance company owes the investor, and they have a high yield of interest. They are also high risk instruments in that the bond-holder is transferring a significant amount of risk to the investors. You’re betting on someone’s life, and assuming the risk of said life being lost in a disaster. The investor also loses all the principal (amount the insurance company owes you) in the event the disaster occurs, but the chance of it occurring is very low.

Why am I writing about these?

They’re fascinating. They are not traded on the stock market and are not impacted by most market conditionsAnd the popularity of these bonds can have unique signals for the markets and the world.

Would you buy an EMB?

2 Replies to “Bet Against Someone’s Life and Death with Extreme Mortality Bonds”

  1. Hey interesting article although I think you should expand it and possible include more data or references. I recommend you listen to a podcast NPR Freakonomics called “Are you ready for a glorious sunset.” It is related to your topic in the way it would be more efficient for insurance companies to give a one last sunshine payout to the policy holder once certain situation are met and they can enjoy to the fullest their last days instead of being in the hospital gaining some more time much also pain and huge cost to the insurance company. I also had some question about your article, like where can you buy those bonds, which companies sell them and what are the typical prices, interest payouts and risk association. Thanks!

    • Thanks for the feedback! Unfortunately I don’t write for the blog anymore – maybe another writer can pick up where I left off! It appears to me that you can buy EMB’s from more aggressive investors and/or investment firms. A Sunset Payout would probably have to have completely different structure than a life insurance policy – but I’m all for it.

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