The growth of the insurance industry in Trinidad and Tobago in the opening decades of the 20th century did in truth reflect the overall prosperity of the islands. This isnot to say that there was not real poverty, both rural and urban. There was, however, a growing middle class, put upon by colonial prejudice, but developing a creole culture of its own, buttressed with education and guided by ambition and a desire for upward mobility, social and financial.
The island’s economy was unique for the region. Sugar cane was big business. British cartels, such as Taitt & Lyle, controlled tens of thousands of acres of sugar cane, employing thousands at starvation wages. Although the ‘salad days’ of the 1850s were over, when good West Indian white sugar fetched 30 shillings per C.W.T., the industry did well on 20 shilling per C.W.T.
The undoubted star performer, however, was cocoa, which climbed off the chart in 1900 with exports well in excess of 30 million pounds, making the turn of phrase ‘the price of cocoa’ gain great currency in the local parlance.
But of even greater significance, particularly for the future, was the petrochemical industry. For if Trinidad could boast of the largest sugar refining complex in the world, seccond only later to Puerto Rico, we could then also boast of possessing the most modern oil refinery in the Caribbean, if not the world.
Economically, we were very well set up. This meant that there was a need to protect financially the significant investments. Property, industrial installations, goods, warehouses and transport were to be insured.
Life insurance as a means of saving and as an investment was a new idea at the time which was rapidly gaining ground, significantly so in the emerging middle class. This was especially the case in that the banking system did not accommodate the ‘small man’. Life insurance as a saving mechanism which paid interest and could be used to secure loans, and which produced endowments, sums that came to hand after retirement, all this secured futures at a time when there were virtually no opportunities for ordinary people to possess investment portfolios.
The Standard Life Company had established itself in the Caribbean in the late 1850s and become increasingly entrenched as a result of advancing capital for the development of plantations, especially in the cocoa industry. This offered quite a spread of potential clients from the owner and his family on to managers; and downstream to the commission agents and their office staff, seein ghtat many ofthe planters were also shippers and commission agents.
It is of interest that this firm, chosen as and example, commenced its operation in 1858 as the Colonial Insurance Company in the Caribbean with offices in Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago. It was able to successfully diversify its risks in the Caribbean’s several economies. It grew with these economies, merging with other companies such as the Jamaica Mutual Insurance, to position itself just short of 150 years later to become Guardian Life of the Caribbean, and a local Trinidadian company by the 1970s. This move to localise was not one that was neccessarily sought, but was a political reality. The catalyst of this mandate was the Black Power uprising of 1970. Essentially, the brains to carry all this forward were home-grown. Individuals such as Ian McBride had grown up in the company. The same could be said of the several heads of companies who emerged in the insurance industry by the early 1960s. Their names give a sense of the evolution of the children of the educated Afro-Franco creole culture of the 1900s. Insurance was one of the few areas of financial enterprise in colonial Trinidad open to them, where prudence met keen business acumen. For a coloured person in that period, the challenge was ultimately to overcome the stereotype role that was imposed by colonial prejudice. One had to re-invent oneself on a very profound level and be possessed of vision.
Who’s Who in Insurance in the 1950s
- William Montgomery Date, known to his friends as Pat, manager for Trinidad Barbados, Leeward & Windward Islands of Confederation Life Association.
- Louis Edmond Ganteaume, A.C.C.S., Secretary, British Guiana and Trinidad Mutual Fire insurance Co. Ltd.
- John Vincent Gonsalves, General Manager, National Life Assurance Company of Canada
- Desmond Gerard Jobity, Secretary, Trinidad Motor Insurance Co. Ltd.
- Bertram Godfrey Warner, District Manager, Sun Life Assurance Co. of Canada
- John Elton Newbold, Secretary-in-charge, Trinidad Branch, Standard Life Insurance Co.
- Louis Eugene Fisher, Branch Manager Manufacturer’s Life Insurance
- Kashi Nath Kaul, A.C.I.S., Divisional Resident Officer for the British Caribbean New Asiatic Insurance Co. Ltd.
- Garnet Johnson McCarthy, Chairman, Colonial Life Insurance Co. Ltd.
- Cyril Oswald Monsanto, Superintendent of agencies, Colonial Life Insurance Co. Ltd.
- Lyndon O. Schuler, Branch Manager of Imperial Life Assurance Co.
Cyril Lucius Duprey, Founder, Director and Secretary-Manager, Colonial Life Insurance Ltd.
Duprey was amongst those who benefitted as the result of reforms in the banking system in the period after the civil unrest of the 1920s. The reforms had seen the emergence of the ‘Penny Bank’, the Cooperative Bank, a saving institution, and the Building and Loan Association, a loan and property development organisation designed to help the small man. By the early 1960s, he was president of both. He also served as director on the board of E.P. Gibbs Ltd., a local trading company. born in Trinidad in 1897, he went to St. Joseph Government School and later to colleges in the United States. He left Trinidad in 1920 and entered the insurance business in Chicago and New York., where he organised the United Mutual Benefit Association in 1933. In 1936, Duprey returned to Trinidad and founded Colonial Life. He became a member of the Economic Advisory Board and the Political Progress Group.