Tuesday, December 30, 2008

(No 1) Introduction to the RickardsRead blog

I entered the life insurance business in the 1970s with the Mutual Life of Canada, a company with which I spent most of my business career. It demutalized, became Clarica Life, was then acquired by Sun Life of Canada and disappeared after more than 130 years.

During my years with Mutual -- and entirely separate from my employment -- I started in 1978 as a spare time activity and as my contribution to the Canadian life insurance industry's mental health the Canadian Journal of Life Insurance, a magazine that accepted no advertising and set out to publish material and focus on issues that trade magazines (dependent as they were and are on industry advertising) mostly chose to avoid. CJLI was a spare time avocation and as the years passed more and more of that spare time was devoted by me to my employment and it was the Journal which eventually had to be put on the shelf after many issues.

Mutual's senior management was most unhappy when (without consulting them) I started CJLI but I kept my job although told by the CEO that it was "hanging by a thread". It has turned out to be a strong thread, one that did not break under the pressure of subsequent threats of termination, possible libel actions and the like. Nor did my departure occur when Sun Life bought Clarica although Sun had been a company I had criticized extensively in CJLI.

I am an unlikely corporate survivor. Indeed had anyone asked me in, say, 1980 how likely it was that I would ever find myself not only an employee of Sun Life but a survior of its takeover of Mutual/Clarica, I would have put the odds about the same as Her Majesty the Queen appointing me Archbishop of Canterbury.

For me the day the music died was Dec 8,1997 when the demutualization of the Mutual Life of Canada was announced, foreshadowing not only the unnecessary elimination of a fine form of mutual organization but also guaranteeing the eventual disappearance of the company itself. This eventuality was made real on Dec 17, 2001 when the acquisition of Clarica Life (i.e, the name of Mutual Life as a stock company) by Sun Life was announced.

During most of my time in the life insurance business a great deal of my job satisfaction arose from working with agents and for the par policyholder owners of Canada's first mutual company. It would be disingenuous for me to claim now that I have arrived after all these years at a point where I have somehow become disappointed or disillusioned. I have not. I've been in business too long as both an observer and a participant for that. Nor am I particularly surprised at how the business has evolved.

Over the years as both an executive and an editor (including my time with Sun Life) I have said everything I ever wanted to say about the business -- at least twice. It has now become as plain as a pikestaff to me that the time is past due for me to remove myself as a participant from the industry's love affair with its brands of new Coke, from much of its current approach to the life insurance business generally and from its handling and (mainly) mishandling of the various forms of agency distribution in particular.

I do not intend to restart the Canadian Journal of Life Insurance, a task requiring more time and energy than I am prepared to commit. However I do have comments to offer not only about the life insurance business but also financial services, politics, business generally, books worth reading and some other matters.

Hence the launching of the blog you are now reading, for the name of which I must thank (along with much else) my wife Pat who suggested that since there was a beer called Rickard's Red, why not have a blog called RickardsRead.

And so it came to pass.