The financial services industry took a battering during the Great Recession. And the banks are still picking up the pieces, but the insurance industry has emerged remarkably unscathed and in rude health.

Beating the Credit Crunch

Why the difference? Well, insurance companies haven’t had to deal with the welter of bad debts that have laid the banks low, and while low interest rates have crunched banking profits, they’ve had little effect on insurance firm earnings.

That’s why these businesses have been good investments since 2008, and I expect them to do well over the next decade too. They may not be the most exciting businesses in the world but, in the world of investing, I think that’s a good thing.

The three companies I’ll focus on in this article are Legal & General (LSE: LGEN), Direct Line (LSE: DLG) and Prudential (LSE: PRU). The thread that runs through all these firms is good value, growth and a high dividend yield.

Growth with juicy dividends

Prudential is the biggest of these companies, and it has had huge success expanding from its original base in the UK and the US, out across Asia. That has fuelled rapid growth in profits, with earnings per share rising from 52.60p in 2013 to an expected 137.73p in 2017. That’s quite a progression, and the share price has rocketed as markets have realised what a bargain this company is.

But why should you buy this company now? Well, the share price is well off its highs, and a 2016 P/E ratio of 11.3, with a dividend yield of 2.98% looks cheap. This is a £35bn business with the ambition to be the leading insurance company in Asia, and it’s an enticing prospect.

In contrast, Direct Line Group is UK-focused with a market capitalisation of just £5bn, but it’s one of this country’s leading insurers. And although the share price has been rising steadily since its 2012 IPO, a 2016 P/E ratio of 13.66 appeals, but the real attraction is the dividend yield of 5.95%.

Legal & General is an insurer and fund management firm with businesses across Europe, India and the Middle East. It’s been steadily growing earnings per share but, like Prudential, its share price is also off its highs. A 2016 P/E ratio of 11.54, and dividend yield of 6.05% looks cheap, and Legal & General has merits as both a growth and a dividend play.

At the Fool we’ve talked a lot about the merits of financials as contrarian buys after the Credit Crunch, but we’ve tended to focus on banks. I’d argue that the best financials to buy into as recovery plays are not the banks, but the insurers. I rate all three of these companies as buys.

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Prabhat Sakya has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.