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Uncertain Costs and Vertical Differentiation in an Insurance Duopoly

  • Radoslav S. Raykov

Classical oligopoly models predict that firms differentiate vertically as a way of softening price competition, but some metrics suggest very little quality differentiation in the U.S. auto insurance market. I explain this phenomenon using the fact that risk-averse insurance companies with uncertain costs face incentives to converge to a homogeneous quality. Quality changes are capable of boosting as well as reducing profits, since quality differentiation softens price competition, but also undermines the lower-end firm’s ability to charge the markup commanded by risk aversion. This can make differentiation suboptimal, leading to a homogeneous quality; the outcome depends on consumers’ quality tastes and on how costly quality is. Additional trade-offs between quality costs, profits and profit variances compound this effect, resulting in equilibria at very low quality levels. I argue that this provides one explanation of how insurer competition drove quality down in the nineteenth-century U.S. market for fire insurance.

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Paper provided by Bank of Canada in its series Working Papers with number 14-14.

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Length: 41 pages
Date of creation: 2014
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:bca:bocawp:14-14
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  1. Paolo Garella & Emmanuel Petrakis, 2008. "Minimum quality standards and consumers’ information," Economic Theory, Springer, vol. 36(2), pages 283-302, August.
  2. Giulio Ecchia & Luca Lambertini, 1995. "Minimum Quality Standards and Collusion," Working Papers 235, Dipartimento Scienze Economiche, Universita' di Bologna.
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  8. Julien Hardelin & Sabine Lemoyne de Forges, 2012. "Raising Capital in an Insurance Oligopoly Market," The Geneva Risk and Insurance Review, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 37(1), pages 83-108, March.
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  10. Jaskold Gabszewicz, J. & Thisse, J. -F., 1979. "Price competition, quality and income disparities," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 20(3), pages 340-359, June.
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  12. Jehoshua Eliashberg & Robert L. Winkler, 1981. "Risk Sharing and Group Decision Making," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 27(11), pages 1221-1235, November.
  13. Naoto Jinji & Tsuyoshi Toshimitsu, 2004. "Minimum Quality Standards under Asymmetric Duopoly with Endogenous Quality Ordering: A Note," Journal of Regulatory Economics, Springer, vol. 26(2), pages 189-199, 09.
  14. Maxwell, John W., 1998. "Minimum quality standards as a barrier to innovation," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 58(3), pages 355-360, March.
  15. Blazenko, George, 1985. "The Design of an Optimal Insurance Policy: Note," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 75(1), pages 253-55, March.
  16. Froot, Kenneth A & Scharfstein, David S & Stein, Jeremy C, 1993. " Risk Management: Coordinating Corporate Investment and Financing Policies," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 48(5), pages 1629-58, December.
  17. Sandmo, Agnar, 1971. "On the Theory of the Competitive Firm under Price Uncertainty," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 61(1), pages 65-73, March.
  18. Valletti, Tommaso M, 2000. "Minimum Quality Standards under Cournot Competition," Journal of Regulatory Economics, Springer, vol. 18(3), pages 235-45, November.
  19. Stulz, René M., 1984. "Optimal Hedging Policies," Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis, Cambridge University Press, vol. 19(02), pages 127-140, June.
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