For more than 160 years Guardian Life of the Caribbean Limited (GLOC) has been a pioneering leader in the Caribbean insurance industry. During this time it has scored many firsts, but there is one which stands out in the minds of customers and competitors: when the company transformed a large exposed mountain face in the 1980s into an indelible symbol which reads: Guardian Life: solid as a rock.
This statement stands out as a symbol of Guardian Life’s innovation, strength, foresight and creativity and has come to personify its dominant leadership category in the insurance industry. But the Guardian Life story begins much further back in time.
An icon is born
Two centuries ago, in 1847, an intrepid Scot Charles Warner opened the doors of Standard Life of Edinburgh to introduce life insurance to Trinidad and Tobago.
This bold entrepreneurial venture was done against the dark backdrop of a financial crisis in the UK, the abolition of slavery and the collapse of the West Indian Bank. Today, in this fast paced 21st century world, Guardian Life is recognised by industry professionals worldwide as the Caribbean’s most dynamic, successful and stable insurance company.
Performance leads to success
A key landmark date in Guardian Life’s history occurred on June 18, 1996. As part of its progressive restructuring, Guardian Life of the Caribbean formed a holding company called Guardian Holdings Limited (GHL).
The company grew steadily and currently operates across the English and Dutch Caribbean with interests in the UK. It is listed on both the Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica stock exchanges and is the parent company for an integrated financial services group with a focus on life, health, property and casualty insurance, pensions and asset management.
GHL has earned an admirable reputation among the leading financial institutions in the Caribbean. The Jamaica Gleaner newspaper and Mona School of Business selected GHL as winner of the 2003 Gilt Edged Golden Awards for Jamaica and the Caribbean, Most Admired Company in Trinidad and Tobago in 2003 and the Caribbean Company of the Year in 2000.
The company has captured awards from the Jamaica Stock Exchange for online reporting in 2008 and 2009 and was the proud recipient of the Trinidad and Tobago Energy Chamber 2009 Leadership Award for “Sustaining the Environment: Making the Most of Green Opportunities”.
As the flagship company within the Group, Guardian Life is headquartered in Trinidad and Tobago and engages in the underwriting of all classes of long-term insurance (life, critical illness and pensions), group business (life, pensions, critical illness and health), as well as associated investment activities. It is also one of the largest life insurance providers in the Caribbean with over 150,000 policies and assets in excess of $650m under management.
Growing business in the Caribbean
As a Caribbean based company, it is only natural that this region continues to be one of the company’s primary focal points in its pursuit of new business opportunities.
GLOC’s span of operations currently includes the Southern Caribbean as well as Central and South America.
Through its sister company, Guardian Life Limited in Jamaica, Guardian Life services the needs of the Cayman Islands and Belize, and through Fatum Holding N.V. Limited, it serves the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba.
The company’s expansionism also continues to make strong inroads through its Barbados branch.
“As we continue along our path of controlled expansion, the Caribbean and Latin America continue to be important growth channels for us,” noted Ravi Tewari, Group President – Life, Health and Pensions.
“Despite the financial aridity being experienced in the global economic climate, our aim of becoming the region’s dominant insurance and wealth-creation company remains steadfast and we are well positioned in our pursuit of this goal. To achieve this we are continuously building sound business models in those countries where there are opportunities for growth and we are making notable progress in that regard,” added Tewari.
In 2007, GLOC’s revenue crossed the $150m mark for the first time in its illustrious history, with revenue exceeding $168m, up from $147m in 2006.
In 2008, total revenue grew by 17 percent to $197m. In 2009, despite the fallout experienced as a result of the financial meltdown of two of the Caribbean’s leading financial institutions combined with a wait-and-see approach of cautious clients, the company’s insurance agents outsold their competitors combined to settle $36.2m in new annual premium income, a 28 percent increase over 2008. Total revenue grew by 12 percent to $221m.
“When you consider the financial twists and turns that occurred over the last year, some insurance companies would have been satisfied just to break even. That’s not the Guardian way,” smiled Tewari.
“Our revenue growth and increase in new annual premium income during these challenging times speak volumes about the quality of our sales force and administrative team. It is clear to see that the efforts we have channelled into our sales force training combined with our technological improvements and the advances made in our internal processes are bearing fruit.”
Tewari explains that this growth was a direct result of the company’s continued successful execution of its business strategy of increasing its market share, developing enhanced market-relevant products, aggressive cost containment, finding more meaningful ways to engage its clients and developing its human capital to the benefit all stakeholders.
With such a laser-like focus on performance and generating new business, it came as no surprise to the Industry’s insightful observers that Guardian Life was again named the World Finance Caribbean Insurance Company of the Year Award 2010 – the third consecutive year that GLOC has earned this distinguished award.
On achieving this hat-trick of awards, an elated Tewari acknowledges that this is an unequivocal indication that Guardian Life’s business strategy is on the right course for substantial and sustainable growth, and that this prestigious endorsement reinforces confidence in the minds of its stakeholders that the company is moving in the right direction.
This year also marks the eighth year running that the company has achieved ‘excellent’ ratings from world renowned rating institution A.M. Best, with this year’s rating of A-Excellent being reaffirmed.
Looking after life
Over time, Guardian Life has built a trusted reputation for holistically demonstrating its commitment to fulfilling the broader meaning behind its corporate slogan: Looking after life. Through programmes and support initiatives that foster environmental preservation, enhance educational outreach, and nurture sporting development among the youth and sporting organisations, the company has long been an admired Caribbean corporate citizen.
In 2010 Guardian Life continues this thrust with a Guardian Gone Green theme which focuses on health and wellness, the environment, youth, sports and education.
The glare of past success does not blind Guardian Life’s management which has set even more aggressive goals to be achieved this year and in the foreseeable future.
According to Tewari: “We remain vigilant in our pursuit of becoming the region’s foremost insurance company. Our focus continues to be guided by our mission to become a first-world insurance firm that is based in the Caribbean. To achieve this, we continue to calibrate our product and service offerings to meet the needs of a knowledgeable and increasingly sophisticated market.”
Evidence of this thrust towards creating products to meet the needs of their diverse client base is founded in the fact that in 2009 Guardian Life introduced four new products in its Caribbean jurisdictions.
“We are judiciously positioning ourselves for expansion and sustained profitability. Our strategy remains steadily on course as we pursue possible acquisitions and alliances that are prudent strategic fits with GLOC,” added Tewari.
He concluded by saying: “As we continue to further develop our portfolios in the markets where we operate, we will continue to transform our business model to meet new challenges and exploit new opportunities. In the traditional Guardian Way we will pursue this with diligence, prudence and the necessary caution which have come to characterise Guardian Life of the Caribbean Limited as a company that has built its impeccable reputation on being as solid as a rock.”