Saturday, November 4, 2006

Wawanesa Insurance - the story of success by Tim Baker

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Wawanesa Insurance Company is a Canadian insurer operating on insurance market for more than a hundred years. It is one of the largest property and casualty insurers in Canada. Wawanesa owns a subsidiary company - Wawanesa Life, which is also targeted at the Canadian insurance market. In the 1970's Wawanesa has expanded its operations and established another subsidiary company in the United States - Wawanesa General.

Nowadays, Wawanesa has 1.800 employees working in Canada and the United States and 1.300 insurance brokers working in Canadian insurance market. In 2005 the Company earned $1.5 billion and expanded its portfolio to three billion dollars. It is one of the most reliable insurers in Canada.

In the beginning

The story of Wawanesa begins in 1895 when Alonzo Fowler Kempton and Charles Kerr decided to establish an insurance company, which would be more efficient than the companies existed at the moment and consequently, could charge lower premiums. The idea was viable. Twenty local farmers liked the initiative and invested $20 each to finance the company. Thus, the company was born.

For the first few years Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Company experienced considerable losses, the fact that made it to diversify its coverage into a broader range of farm equipment and buildings, schools and churches. In addition, the company expanded its activity into new geographical areas - Saskatchewan and Alberta provinces. By the end of the century Wawanesa was protecting $1 million worth property. A few years later this figure grew to $20 million and in 1910 the company claimed to be "the largest Mutual Fire Insurance Company in Canada".

During the First World War the growth remained stable, and Wawanesa retained the name of a reliable company. In 1922 the company underwent a change in leadership. The new managing director, Charles Morley Vanstone was the man, who led Wawanesa Insurance through the hard times of the Great Depression.

Further growth

In 1926 Wawanesa offered its clients coverage on private buildings in towns and cities. In 1928 the company diversified its coverage more and issued the very first auto insurance policy. A year later Wawanesa was granted a Dominion of Canada charter, which meant the company could offer coverage throughout Canada. The years of the Great Depression had a little impact on Wawanesa. In fact the company strengthened and expanded during this period. It opened new branches in Montréal, Winnipeg, and Moncton within five years. While other businesses collapsed, Wawanesa prospered and before the Second World War Wawanesa had a reputation of a "straightforward organization, free from chicanery and all forms of trickery".

During the 1940's and 1950's, Wawanesa Insurance became known as an innovative company. For instance, the company offered low premiums to young British Columbians who completed either a Canadian Automobile Association approved driver course, or a high-school driving program.

In the early 1960's, the company opened its subsidiary - Wawanesa Life Insurance Company. For the next few years both companies grew steadily, however in the late 1960's the company faced a new challenge, which had a great influence on the company's future.

New expansion

After the 1969 election of a New Democratic Party government in Manitoba, all drivers were compelled to buy auto insurance policies from the government-established "Manitoba Public Insurance Corporation". This had a drastic impact on Wawanesa, since the company was the largest automobile insurer in the region. The company's income in Manitoba fell to one-third of what it had been a year earlier. This and other factors enforced Wawanesa to diversify its business. The board of directors decided to open a subsidiary company in the United States, and California looked as the most promising area for the new business.

A year later, Wawanesa opened a new office in San Diego, California. It was the right decision; the market was as large as Canadian. In the first month Wawanesa issued 102 policies and San Diego proved itself as the best possible choice. Over the next 20 years the local population increased in five times and Wawanesa was destined to grow with the region.


In 1996 Wawanesa celebrated its centenary. It is certain that stability and service, the values that have always been the backbone of Wawanesa, will continue to guide the company in its second century.

About the Author
Tim Baker is the founder the website, devoted to Wawanesa Insurance Company.

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