Monday, 5 September 2011

The Insurance Industry, Parts One and Two

The generation who grew up between the wars produced significant personalities and locally-grown entrepreneurs, for example Ray Dieffenthaler or Cyril Duprey, who pioneered the oilfield supply business and the insurance industry respectively. In this generation, and from this milieu, were also born people like Mikey Hamel-Smith and Dr. Eric Williams, who would later take the islands of Trinidad and Tobago into independence.

Looking back, those personalities came out of what historian and writer Dr. Alfred Toynbee calls the ‘dominant creative minority’. They had their roots in the non-white people of pre-emancipation days. Buttressed by the ex-slaves and their descendants, who after emancipation became highly motivated and increasingly vocal, a newly emerging coloured middle class was seeking to take advantage of education for their children and a respectable life style.

The assimilation of European - or rather, English Victorian - values, and the acculturisation formalised by religious principles, made them, as Vidia Naipaul remarked “not white but very plite and acceptable”.

Increasingly supported by the cocoa economy’s trickle-down effect, they were not by and large wealthy people. However, amongst their ranks appeared increasingly individuals who could afford to educate their sons, who became often scholarship winners at the best universities in England and Scotland.

The products of excellent schoolmasters, they were the finest that the island had produced in 100 years of British rule. True to thir roots, they spoke up against the pressure of Crown Colony rule, with its prejudice, nepotism and the ongoing deprivation of opportunities for the locals.

Many were professionals, lawyers and doctors, schoolteachers and civil servants. This class of thinking, aware and upright citizens produced several institutions, such as the Workingman’s Association, the Cooperative Bank and the Building and Loan Association. They were at the core of the Friendly Societies and the various masonic orders and quasi-masonic organisations, all in pursuit of consensus and anti-colonial sentiment.

Some of them agitated for the recognition of Emancipation Day. They republished Jean Baptiste Philippe’s ‘Free Mulatto’, an account of the landmark civil rights case that had been upheld by the House of Lords in London.

“The Beaubruns were ‘one of the oldest and most respected families of Naparima’,” writes Dr. Bridget Brereton in her book ‘Race Relations in Colonial Trinidad’.

Trinidad’s frontier town atmosphere of fly-by-night operators, slight of hand artistes and snakeoil salesmen still dies hard. In the period after the conquest by the British (1797), it was indeed the order of the day. Governor Picton did not hesitate to hang would-be offenders, many a time in advance of the crime, or so it has been alleged.

More than a quarter of a century later, in the Woodford years, things were somewhat calmer. Several British firms set up business in the pre-emancipation period (before 1834), importing all manner of merchandise for sale in the growing town. Many of these traders were Scotsmen. They also served as exporters, shipping out of Port of Spain in 1820 more than 30 million pounds of sugar, 1.7 million pounds of cocoa, 211,555 pounds of coffee, 96,545 pounds of cotton, 524,316 gallons of rum and 471,001 gallons of syrup. In 1850, the value of imports were £476,910 and exports £319,394.

As far as population was concerned in 1832, there were 3,683 whites, 16,302 mixed, about 700 Amerindians, 20,265 slaves and 4,615 ‘Aliens and Strangers’.

With an increasingly properous plantation and commercial sector emerging, producing a middle strata now more secure and free from the fears of the depredations of war and revolt. Individuals with households sought to plan a more secure future for their dependents. Apart from saving money in the vaults of the Colonial Bank, there was a somewhat new and supposedly secure way to save and benefit, known as life assurance. Modern life insurance in the British Empire dates from the foundation of the old Equitable Society, founded in 1762. The application for a charter for the Equitable, however, was firt opposed in the City of London by various vested interests:

“The success of the scheme must depend upon the truth of certain calculation taken upon tables for life and death, whereby the chance of mortality is attempted to be reduced to a certain standard - this is more speculation, never yeat tried in practice, and consequently subject like all other experiments to various chances in teh execution.”

This was of course challenged by the principles of the Equitable, and the charter was established. In other parts of Britain, this ‘experiment’ was soon followed. The Standard life Assurance Company of Scotland was started in 1825. Scotland, known for the thrifty nature of its inhabitants, proved a successful source for the sale of policies. ... The Scottish Widows’ Fund, for example, was a mutual office. ...

Britain’s expanding empire meant more and more of their own nationals living abroad, doing business and administrating colonies all over the world. In 1840, under the guidance of William Thomas Thompson, manager and actuary at Standard Life, who became one of the founders of the Institute of Actuaries of Great Britain, it was decided to establish a new company called the Colonial Life Assurance Company. It would operate in England’s far-flung colonies. In 1846, the Colonial was established in Trinidad. The purpose of this sibling company was to reduce the risk to the parent company. After all, the West Indian colonies had about them something of the unknown.

Within twenty years, the Colonial no longer existed. In the 1860s, Standard Life Assurance was, however, well established in the Caribbean.

Trinidad’s prosperity during this period was significant. In 1865, imports totaled £810,347. Its exports were £820,109. The colony could boast a revenue of £194,087. Its expenditure that year stood at £195,991. The ‘Standard Quarterly’ of 1937 records:

“Business began to open up under Mr. W.E. Hunter’s management, and soon we found ourselves advancing loans on cocoa mortgages. in Trinidad. The late Mr. G. Bruce Austin (Stiggs to his intimates) was the agent at Trinidad. He was one of the most popular men in the West Indies. When loans were advanced to cocoa property owners, one of the conditions of the loan was that a collateral policy had to be taken out, and the great bulk of the West Indies business at the time was obtained in this way. We advanced loans in Trinidad up to £300,000 on porperty, and quite a considerable amount on personal security. It is worthy of remark that the latter, due to Austin’s careful selection, never involved the Company in the loss of a penny.”

The Standard Life Assurance Company, through its offshoot, was amongst the first of its kind, if not actually the first life office, but it would soon have many competitors.

Other firms of insurance established themselves. Both fire and general firms found a footing in this growing economy. Recorded in Daniel Hart’s book ‘The island of Trinidad’ were:

Barbados Mutual Life Assurance Society - Agents, Turnbull, Stewart & Co.

City of Glasgow Assurance Company - Agents, Henry Watts & Co.

Colonial Life Assurance Company - Agents, John Cumming.

Commercial Union Assurance Company - Agents, L. Labastide & Co.

Home & Colonial Life Assurance Company - Agents, Scott, Julyan & Co.

Imperial Fire Insurance Company - Agents, M. Burnett.

La Tutelar Mutual Life Insurance Company of Madrid - Agents, O’Connor Bros.

Liverpool and London Insurance Company - Agents, Henry Watts & Co.

Mercantile Fire Insurance Company - Agents, Turnbull, Stewart & Co.

Northern Fire Insurance Company - Agents, O’Connor Bros.

Phoenix Fire Insurance Company - Agents, John Fuller.

Queen Insurance Company - Agents, A. Campbell & Co.

Royal Insurance Company (Fire & Life) - Agents, T.A. Finlayson.

Scottish Amicable Life Assurance Company - Agent, J.C. Alston.

Sun Fire Office - Agents, Hume, Bernard & Co.

Victoria Life Assurance Company - Agents, Charles Fabien.

Lloyd’s Agents - Hume ,Bernard & Co.

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