December 9, 2015 by Jeff Pearce
“Nothing exciting.” That was the first line of the first feature article when our magazine rebranded itself as Canadian Insurance on February 1, 1913.
Certainly not a lead to set the world on fire, and more than a year later, there was this unintentionally hilarious item in its Topics of the Week section: “New life business has dropped violently since war was declared.”
Nothing exciting? Hardly. There was plenty of exciting stuff to write about, if only they could figure out how. And they would. Think wooden buildings, and vintage Model T’s with horns like duck calls and no electric traffic lights. Do you think they needed insurance back then? Better believe it.
It would be decades before Toronto would become the country’s biggest city (in the shadow of cosmopolitan Montreal), but it was still on the business map, and a fire in 1904 swept 90 downtown buildings to the tune of $12 million. One year later, the country could count 40 firms offering fire coverage. By 1907, there were more than 2,000 automobiles on the road and counting. Life was getting faster; everything was rush, rush, rush (as defined by a car that could go up to 40 miles an hour).
And there was this innocuous little insurance magazine, Office and Field, founded in 1905. It didn’t make a big splash, but then two entrepreneurial brokers snapped it up and folded it into their own clever enterprise. Their names were W.E. Stone and Charles Cox, originally from Britain. They began publishing their Canadian Insurance periodical covering both P&C and life in 1913, but because of Office folding into CI, publishers have always marked the beginning of our enterprise from 1905, making us 110 years old this month.
Even if you want to nitpick the dates, you can’t fault the founders’ timing. Only three weeks before the presses rolled for Canadian Insurance, an abattoir in Calgary blazed in a spectacular fire, leading to $750,000 in damage.
Trust me, this article is not intended as a history lesson it’s meant to be fun. But it helps if you realize that the decades were never the stereotypes we’ve inherited. The 1930s weren’t repressed; ask anyone who paid their nickel to go see Tarzan and His Mate (scantily clad Jane) at the movies in 1934. The 1940s weren’t all lockstep patriotism—you had race riots in Detroit, Chicago and elsewhere. The 1950s get a lot more interesting when you remember they had Audrey Hepburn. And contrary to myth, we got by for most of the 1980s without Flock of Seagulls haircuts and Jane Fonda leg warmers. A few of us even had cell phones… only they were the size of a Subway sandwich.
Looking back gets a lot more fun when you realize our business was tied in to virtually every major life-changing event of the past century. And for all of that time, Canadian Insurance—CI Top Broker—has been drawing a road map for which way the industry has been heading. So let’s check out the road markers.
In the February 1, 1913 issue, our magazine was telling readers: “TITANIC CLAIMS AMOUNT TO $5,467,406” and that “So heavy has been the work in connection with filing and fixing claims in connection with the Titanic calamity that the limit has been officially extended to February 11.” The magazine reported that individual claims at the time for lost cargo and baggage ranged from $4,000 to $60,000.
Perhaps the most intriguing bit of the story—in our age of the Costa Concordia disaster and folks violently ill on Royal Caribbean line’s Explorer of the Seas last year—is this nugget: lawyers “contend that ‘due diligence’ was not exercised in the navigation of the vessel… the company might be held liable… to $3 million.” The magazine’s estimate was way off, but it was looking in the right direction. In fact, the following year the British owners of the ship managed to talk the U.S. Supreme Court into getting limited liability in American courts. Still, hundreds of claimants were looking for what added up to $16 million in damages. The surprise isn’t that the company settled— it’s for how little. In the end, it was only $664,000 in total.
Good to remember: the most famous ship sinking of all time—the inspiration for museum exhibits, James Cameron making lifeboat-loads of money and Celine Dion annoying us with that song—is really an insurance story. And we were following it first.
Leaf through the crinkled pages of the ancient issues, however, and what really stands out are the twin obsessions over fire and this new fad of auto-mobiles. In November of 1914, Canadian Insurance reported, “Loss of autos by theft—especially of Ford cars—is increasing. Forty percent of such cars are not recovered.” A later issue informed you with no irony intended that “Most Accidents Involve Claims for Damages.” The magazine also carried a whole section called “Phases of Fire Insurance” and sometimes indulged in black humour; a printed joke in 1923 went that an adjuster decided a blaze was due to “friction… caused by rubbing a $3,000 policy on a $2,000 house.”
Forget politically correct; it didn’t exist. In 1931, the magazine explained that “On account of their position as wards of the Indian Department, it was impossible to collect damages from… Native drivers, and white motorists went as far to the side of the road as possible rather than risk a collision in which they would have no legal protection…” A B.C. legislative committee wanted provincial police to be stingier in granting licenses to First Nations people.
While we’re at it, if you think the wrangle over car insurance rates is new, consider how the newly formed Chamber of Commerce of Montreal asked indignantly, “Why is it that the owner of a light automobile must pay $62.50 for insurance in the province of Quebec when it costs only $37.50 in the province of Ontario?” That was in 1938.
Within these archives, there’s a steady shock of the familiar with the counterpoint of what was genuinely new—the first rumbles of storms that would change our world. Consider that in 1931, we told execs and brokers how “Reinsurance Is to Stop Burden Falling Heavily on Any Fund” (and go check our “UpFront” item on TRIA).
Only a couple of columns away, the magazine announced, “For the first time in history, a United States bank, the Chase National of New York, with a total of $2,073,755,923, takes the lead as the largest financial institution in the Englishspeaking world in terms of deposits.” Tiny print for a very big deal: the U.S. had come into its own as a financial powerhouse. Moreover, this was after the 1929 Stock Market Crash and with the Depression taking root. Think about what ordinary folks swelling the ranks of the unemployed must have felt about Chase… and what they think about banks today.
And an editorial in 1932, CI—arguing insurance companies are “directly interested in the soundness of the country’s financial methods”—offered a vague warning of trouble to come: “It seems to be reasonably well established that there can be no lasting improvement in the financial troubles of the world till the reparations owed by Germany and other enemy countries [from the First World War] are either cancelled or considerably modified.”
As the Nazis laid waste to Europe, it took a while for the impact to be felt in quiet offices in Winnipeg and Vancouver, but the magazine realized it couldn’t be business as usual. Its own editor signed up and sailed off for service, and soon the pages were filled with war items. One of them was an interview with an insurance exec who fled Tokyo not long after his own boss, a photography buff, foolishly took some snaps and was held in jail for two weeks on suspicion of being a spy. Even our advertisers got into the spirit; Standard Life proclaiming, “UNSHAKEN BY THE WAR.”
The editors were more candid about those who were shaken. In a 1942 issue, one columnist described in surprisingly frank detail how London coped after the Luftwaffe blew city blocks into rubble: “The fire brigade in the area comes up and starts its work. Then come the local air wardens, the ambulance men and nurses who try to save life and rescue the injured. All must wear gas masks. Then come the women with their coffee stalls to provide food and drink for the police, warden, firemen and ambulance men. They have got to stay somewhere near the scene of the bombing and carry on their job, although bombs may be falling all around. The women who drive the ambulances have got to stand by and pick up any human debris so that the whole of the street is cleared of human remains before people go to work in the morning…”
What’s remarkable, though, is how our writers were already looking ahead. In 1943, the ashes were cold from Pearl Harbor, and the Allied landing at Normandy still more than a year away, but Canadian Insurance had an Op-Ed piece titled, “When the Lights Come On Again: Selling Insurance in the Post-War World.” Another article promised, “Casualty insurance companies will find new and increasing outlets for their activities. The public is gradually coming to realize that fire and death are not the only two insurable risks…”
They did. And with the Fifties, Canadian Insurance reinvented itself as a magazine instead of a newspaper. With curmudgeonly grumbles, a 1955 editorial complained, “Attacking the insurance industry appears to be a favorite plank in 1939-1945 The Second World War. In 1943, CI reports on fires at Ontario and Quebec shipyards and plants “hampering the war effort.” 1945 John Wayne, George C. Scott, Brad Pitt and George Clooney win the war all by themselves. 1946 Saskatchewan introduces the world’s first no-fault system of auto insurance. 1954 Hurricane Hazel, a Category 4 hurricane, causes $100 million in damages and kills 100 people in Canada, mostly in Ontario. 1960 “Protection against an atomic bomb attack on the Toronto area is being offered by Record Security and Reproduction of Rexdale, Ont.” 1968 Sideburns in Vancouver’s Gastown grow dangerously long. 12 | February 2015 citopbroker.com the platform of the CCF [now the NDP].” It didn’t like Ontario socialists pushing public auto insurance, and no, it certainly didn’t like the party claiming a new scheme would lower premiums—“This is fine fare for the voters, Sir, but untrue!” The more things change… In 1953, a writer for CI warned, “Juries may bankrupt us; if the trend towards larger and larger awards continues, eventually no one will be able to pay.”
Ah, the Sixties. Kennedy and martinis. Civil Rights. Acid trips. Tie-dye. Love-ins.
Nope, sorry, Canada got very little of that. Especially in insurance. While the kids were listening to “American Woman” by the Guess Who on scratchy transistor radios, Canadian Insurance ran articles on how to investigate whiplash claims. The obsession in P&C was how to use tech for security; closed circuit TV was the toy du decade. Your client should have buildings with security precautions introduced in the design phase; get investigators who know how to do surveillance.
Finally, in the 1970s, things loosened up enough that the mag began to get… well, experimental, at least with its covers. It was still complaining about the NDP over auto insurance (“They Just Don’t Get It!”). CI even began to look outward again. The October 1972 issue ran a feature titled “Insurers maintain markets and coverage in Belfast.” It was the height of the Troubles that terrorized the region and when the IRA extended its bombing scare into London itself. The scene was Belfast, but this could fit the New Normal for many parts of the world today: “A person seen leaving a car parked on the street and unoccupied is ordered to return to the car and sit in it. Just a precaution to determine whether or not the auto is loaded with a bomb…. Before entering a store to make an everyday purchase, each person is frisked for weapons and those tiny bombs which can be mailed in envelopes. If a person leaves a parcel or purse unattended anywhere, he or she is ordered to retrieve it in case there is a bomb planted inside.”
The Eighties were about fear of automation, and the Nineties the era of the Rise of the Broker. Back when Kim Campbell was prime minister for five minutes, her finance minister, Gilles Loiselle, told the IBAO in late 1989, “We do not propose to disrupt your business as the principal retailers of insurance products in Canada.” Brokers not only in Ontario but all the way in B.C. were loudly arguing that banks and other financial institutions should be shut out of selling insurance, and the fact that Loiselle had to come down to the Royal York Hotel in Toronto to reassure them spoke volumes about the clout brokers had gained. CI could devote a page to “Brokers Speak Out!” that let them vent on whether they should take mandatory courses. It ran “A Day in the Life of a Broker.”
And the magazine kept innovating. It saw opportunities in globalization. CI’s Sally Praskey interviewed David Suzuki: “It is the insurance industry, Suzuki contends, that will bear the economic burden that will result from global warming.” He warned of massive flooding and that “The implications for the insurance industry are so immense that as the planet begins to heat up, forests are going to change.” We printed that in 1994.
And in April of 2010, the magazine decided the best way to innovate was to reinvent itself. As then-editor Romana King wrote, there was a “need to support the largest distribution channel for P & C insurance in Canada: the brokers.” The need’s still there, and the story continues…
Copyright 2015 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the February 2015 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine
This story was originally published by Canadian Insurance Top Broker.