January 18, 2019 by Greg Meckbach
Unlike Economical Insurance, Canada’s largest mutual insurer plans to stay that way.
“Everybody says, ‘Because of what Economical is doing, are you going to demutualize?’ No,” Carol Jardine, president of the Canadian property and casualty operations of Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Company, said Thursday during a luncheon hosted by the Insurance Brokers of Toronto Region (IBTR).
Wawanesa, which was founded in the Manitoba community of the same name, is Canada’s largest mutual P&C insurer. Among Canadian P&C carriers, Winnipeg-based Wawanesa and Waterloo, Ont.-based Economical rank fifth and seventh respectively by premiums written in 2017.
Economical Insurance submitted a proposal this past June to the federal Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions that would convert the mutual insurer to a stock company. If successful, Economical would become publicly traded. Several more hurdles remain to be cleared before Economical can demutualize.
One reason Economical officials want to demutualize is to raise money from capital markets to help pay for mergers or acquisitions.
Wawanesa has previously indicated that it has no demutualization plans, but Jardine gave brokers some insight into why on Thursday.
“There are very successful mutuals in the United States and we think that is the best offering for Canadians and their community,” Jardine said, citing State Farm and Liberty Mutual as examples. “We don’t have shareholders. We just have ourselves, and we are kind of a break-even insurance company. We are very happy with [a] 100[%] combined [ratio].”
In contrast, publicly-traded insurers may be trying to keep their combined ratio around 93% so they can give their shareholders a return on their investment.
Canada has seven federally-regulated property and casualty mutual insurers. Four life insurers (Manulife, Clarica, Sun and Canada Life) demutualized nearly 20 years ago. In 2015, Canada passed regulations allowing federally-regulated P&C mutuals to demutualize. The only one to start the process has been Economical.
Economical’s proposal, sent to OSFI in June 2018, includes a recommendation on how to allocate financial benefits resulting from demutualization, as well as opinions from actuarial and financial experts. OSFI “will be diligent and they will be thorough” in reviewing Economical’s conversion proposal, Economical chairman John Bowey said in May 2018 at the insurer’s annual general meeting. “We expect this to be a lengthy review.”