As we reflect on 2020, there is no question that it was a year of unprecedented events that deeply affected all of us. COVID-19 and severe catastrophe events — like heightened hurricane activity that made 2020 the fifth costliest cat year on record — impacted our financial performance, as well as the industry overall. This led to disappointing financial results that, unfortunately, overshadowed highly encouraging progress in our core underwriting performance and portfolio optimization efforts.
Despite these challenges, 2020 was a year where AXIS delivered better core underwriting results across nearly all of our lines of business. Though we have more work to do, we enter 2021 well-positioned to take advantage of market conditions. In particular, we will grow in non-cat exposed lines of business, continue to increase our resilience to cat events, and improve terms and conditions, reduce limits and increase attachment points where appropriate — ultimately delivering more balance in our results. Current market conditions provide us with a rare opportunity to both improve profitability and grow in our most attractive markets.
As I look back on 2020, I am grateful for our team’s perseverance and collective will to overcome adversity, including through our COVID-19 response. Our team did an outstanding job of sustaining excellent service to our clients and distribution partners, and we transitioned without interruption to a virtual working environment.
Our shared efforts have made us a more focused, collaborative and engaged organization. Moreover, our strength, resourcefulness and resilience through the turmoil of the past year give me every confidence that our AXIS team can prevail over future challenges — and deliver strong performance and grow value for all our stakeholders — building a strong foundation for the future.
Our team did an outstanding job of sustaining excellent service to our clients and distribution partners, and we transitioned without interruption to a virtual working environment.
Net loss attributable to common shareholders for 2020 was $151 million, or $(1.79) per diluted common share, compared to net income available to common shareholders of $282 million, or $3.34, for the same period in 2019. Full-year 2020 results included pre-tax catastrophe and weather-related losses, net of reinsurance and reinstatement premiums, of $774 million (17.7 points on the loss ratio), of which $360 million (8.2 points) was due to COVID-19. Comparatively, pre-tax catastrophe and weather-related losses, net of reinsurance and reinstatement premiums, were $336 million (7.5 points) in 2019.
Though somewhat masked by the challenging conditions of the past year, the strong progress in our core underwriting performance was a highlight of 2020. Our accident year ex-cat combined ratio was 92.2% for full-year 2020 — nearly 5 points better than 2019. Our efforts over the past few years have led to improved core results across nearly all of our lines of business. Additionally, reducing net cat exposure across our book has been a major strategic focus.
Gross premiums written were down 1% to $6.8 billion, as a 13% decrease in the Reinsurance segment was partially offset by 9% growth in Insurance premiums. This primarily reflected ongoing portfolio optimization and our disciplined allocation of capital.
In 2020, we made continued progress in strengthening our portfolios across both Insurance and Reinsurance. This included the aggressive elimination of less attractive lines, a focus on building a more balanced and less volatile book and — importantly — an emphasis on business lines that present greater opportunities for profitable growth.
The majority of our business is now focused on lines and markets where we are well-positioned to take advantage of improving conditions. This is evident in our ability to achieve average rate increases (on a gross basis) of more than 14% in Insurance — more than double the average rate increase for 2019 — with momentum accelerating in each quarter of the year. In Reinsurance, the average rate increase was 8%, which also accelerated toward year-end, as we achieved average rate increases of 12% at the January 1, 2021 renewals.
We are confident that rates, terms and conditions will remain strong in 2021, as our industry continues to adjust to challenges such as the increasing impact of climate change, ongoing loss potential from COVID-19, the effect of social inflation on loss trends and historically low interest rates. AXIS has developed leadership and expertise in some of the key markets exhibiting the strongest corrections, and we look forward to delivering profitable performance in these areas.
In 2020, we continued to identify new products and delivery channels, leveraging technology. We partnered with Simply Business, a digital insurance agency offering small business insurance policies on behalf of carriers to launch AXIS Home Based Business insurance. This product offers customized coverage designed for home businesses not covered by traditional homeowners insurance policies. We also announced an exclusive partnership with AllDigital Specialty (ADS), an insurtech start-up, to create a digital platform serving the small private company management liability market in the U.S. With the ADS platform, AXIS will be able to quickly and cost-effectively quote, bind and issue policies for this previously untapped market segment.
At a time when in-person contact was out of the question, I am proud that AXIS went the extra mile to engage with colleagues, clients and partners. Years of hard work by our Business Technology Solutions team have enabled AXIS to build a stronger technology backbone. This proved invaluable in 2020, as we seamlessly transitioned to a virtual workplace environment. In addition to providing colleagues with the equipment they needed for a work-from-home environment, we established a digital Employee Wellbeing Center that offers guidance to our teams on topics such as health, fitness, mindfulness and wellbeing. We also provided parents with resources, such as e-learning platforms to aid in home-schooling.
We recognized that maintaining continuity of service during the COVID-19 crisis was of paramount importance and our efforts in this regard have been acclaimed by our clients and distribution partners. To enhance visibility and engagement with brokers, we also created a Virtual Broker Lounge, which is now being implemented by some of our teams. The “lounge” is a custom web-based communications platform that gives brokers convenient, direct access to an underwriter via video, instant messaging or one-click calling.
We have further refined and advanced our corporate citizenship initiatives, which take into account environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors, with the goal of making a positive impact for our colleagues, clients, communities and our planet. In 2020, we were proud to sign the Principles for Sustainable Insurance and the United Nations Global Compact, underscoring our commitment. In the interest of transparency and accountability, we published our first disclosure report aligned with the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) addressing the year-ended December 31, 2019.
In response to the devastation of COVID-19, we made a $1 million commitment to pandemic relief and recovery support, with a portion dedicated to supporting underserved communities disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. The funding was allocated among several global organizations and approximately 100 local organizations.
AXIS remains focused on addressing the impact of climate change, which is not only a major threat to our planet, but also a significant source of risk for our clients and the industry overall. Our policy limiting thermal coal and oil sands underwriting and investment went into effect on January 1, 2020. By the end of the year, we strengthened the policy with additional commitments related to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We also completed our first climate risk assessment, an audit of climate-related exposures across our business. We continued to invest in industry research on climate risk through the AXIS Research Center at the University of Illinois and in collaboration with experts from AIR Worldwide and the Brookings Institute, we released a research report on climate change’s influence on hurricane risk in the United States by 2050.
We continued fostering an inclusive culture and increased employee awareness, training and development regarding Diversity & Inclusion (D&I). Moreover, in 2020 we followed through on our commitment to transparency on D&I and gender equality measures by participating in the Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index (GEI).
There’s much more to be done — but we have made steady progress since we sharpened our focus on citizenship in late 2018, and we are committed to advancing our programs, policies and disclosures while advocating for stronger practices within our industry.
In a year of almost unimaginable challenges, AXIS delivered solid improvements in our core underwriting performance, significantly repositioned the portfolio and continued to invest in enhancing our capabilities and talent. AXIS entered 2021 with a stronger and more balanced book of business. Though we know we have more work to do, we are well-positioned to benefit from these initiatives — as well as from our reputation for market leadership, deep expertise and exceptional service.
I am confident that the continued execution of our strategies will allow us to pursue opportunities across the spectrum of an improving market, positioning AXIS for profitable growth. In this effort, we are fortunate to have the talent, professionalism and dedication of our colleagues throughout the world as we continue to strengthen the foundation for a bright future for our Company, clients and shareholders.