Have you ever gotten a safe driving discount on your auto insurance? How about a discount for purchasing different types of insurance bundled by one company? If you have, you owe your savings (figuratively, of course), to one George Joseph, the insurance industry legend who was recently recognized as the oldest billionaire in the United States, with a net worth of $1.6 billion and profiled in Time magazine.
The auto insurance industry has its origins in the period immediately following World War II, and at that time – believe it or not – everybody who purchased an auto insurance policy was charged the exact same rate. For years, Joseph worked in the industry under those conditions, gradually realizing (thanks in part to his skills as a mathematics whiz) that this was a nonsensical way to conduct business. According to his official biography on the website for the company he went on to found, he eventually had an epiphany that like most epiphanies only seems obvious in retrospect:
"Joseph decided he could create a new system by developing an insurance company that used different factors to create fair and equitable rates for a variety of drivers."
That company is Mercury Insurance, founded by Joseph in 1962 for $2 million – roughly $16 million in today's dollars – he managed to scrape together. 23 years later, the company went public, and is now worth upwards of $3.3 billion on the stock market.
Since founding Mercury, Joseph has been politically active within the insurance field as well, lobbying for public insurance regulations like a 2010 California ballot initiative that he endorsed as giving insurance customers access to more discounts. And despite Mercury's sometimes rocky consumer advocacy history (the company was once cited by the California Department of Insurance for "contempt toward and/or abuse of its customers" and was once fined $300,000 for various infractions), Joseph says he's proud of his legacy in the insurance business:
"I hope I'll be remembered for the contribution I've made to the insurance industry and the changes Mercury has pioneered that have led to billions of dollars in savings for consumers,"
All things considered, that's probably preferable to being remembered as the oldest American billionaire.