The pioneers of The Co-operators were a unique group and created a solid foundation for the company. Some went to such personal lengths that their stories have become examples of the steadfast dedication that has made The Co-operators what it is today. Their stories speak to the creativity, innovation, and determination of some of our early agents to provide the service they so strongly believed our clients deserved.
Pat Powell's VW Van
Let the office come to you
In 1958, after four years as the only Co-operators Insurance Association (CIA) agent in the Stratford area, Pat Powell was looking for ways to improve his business. After spending 19 years in the grocery business, many of those owning his own store, Pat knew what it took to keep clients coming back. He had a strong belief in doing that little bit extra, and knew that a successful salesman had to innovate.
He certainly took that innovation to heart in 1958. Much of Pat's business came from farmers, and with no Stratford office at the time, Pat worked from his home and spent a great deal of time driving up the back roads, knocking on every door.
Often he would find potential clients out in their fields, and would make the trek to meet with them and do business right there on the large tractor tires. While it helped to sell many policies, Pat found that it was often cold and windy. So he bought himself a Volkswagen van, and converted it into a mobile office, complete with comfortable seats, a propane heater, all of his manuals, and painted with the words "Co-op Insurance Mobile Office."
This way, he could meet with clients wherever they were, and at the same time, spread the company name. The decked-out VW van was a local landmark from 1958 until 1961.
Though CIA opened a permanent service office in Stratford in 1960, Pat's van was so recognizable that clients would often see it in the parking lot as he picked up his mail at the post office, and meet with him about their insurance needs there rather than at the new office. This type of innovative thinking served Pat well and in 1962, he became the first CIA multi-line sales representative to achieve $1 million of life insurance in force.
$2 Goes a Long Way
Perhaps the greatest legend in The Co-operators history is the "$2" story. The facts of the event clearly speak to the unwavering support of our staff and clients, profiling a special relationship we continue to enjoy today.
In 1956, like many insurers, Co-operators Insurance Association experienced some financial difficulty, as more claims and higher payouts resulted in a substantial reduction of the surplus fund. There were a number of ideas about how to tackle the problem, and in the end, one far-fetched suggestion stood out.
In January 1957, a letter titled "A Report and a Request" (download page 1, page 2 and page 3) was sent to all policyholders with their renewal. The letter outlined the poor financial state of the company and some remedies. The company asked each policyholder to donate, in addition to their premium amount, two dollars for each auto policy in force. The donation would be applied directly to the company's surplus, and as it was considered a gift, the company would not have to pay tax on it.
Throughout the year, two-dollar bills rolled in. And at the end of 1957, policyholders had donated a total of $49,573 to the company surplus. Today, that would be almost a quarter of a million dollars!
This story illustrates how the power of many helped shape the future for the company that became The Co-operators.
"How You Can Help – We are competing with companies that established huge surplus funds in the days before income taxation…In the first seven years in automobile insurance (1949 – 1955) CIA paid $200,000 in income and premium taxes and accumulated in surplus only $140,000. We are therefore asking each policyholder to give his company, as a voluntary contribution in addition to his premium, $2 for each automobile policy. As a gift, your $2 will go into the company's surplus fund without CIA having to pay tax on it."
-Andrew Hebb, General Manager, Co-operators Insurance Association
The McLennan Policy
A dedicated sales force
In the earliest days of The Co-operators, the sales force was comprised mainly of volunteers who had little or no insurance experience. These were farmers, credit union members, or employees of co-operatives who held a belief in the co-operative principles and a strong desire to see the newly formed insurance company succeed.
One of those volunteers was John D. McLennan, a former secretary of United Farmers of Ontario, which eventually became the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. In 1948, Mr. McLennan was already licensed to sell insurance for Co-operative Life, and with approval by the Board in 1949, was licensed to sell auto insurance in northern Ontario for Co-operators Fidelity and Guarantee Association.
In March of 1949, soon after acquiring his licence, Mr. McLennan wrote an auto policy for himself, and two women who are believed to be his sisters. The policy was written on a 1940 Ford that he had purchased for $1,200. On this policy, Mr. McLennan assumed a $100 deductible on the collision portion of his policy. In today's terms, that is equivalent to an approximately $2,500 deductible on an average vehicle!
In 1949, $100 was a considerable amount of money, and that a part-time and volunteer member of the sales force would assume such a personal risk on his own auto insurance speaks volumes to the strong faith and commitment the early founders held in their company; a dedication that remains today.
The Bill Belliveau story
Pedalling to success
The early employees and sales force of The Co-operators faced many challenges in building the foundation of our company. From funding and training to securing office space, challenges were met head on and with unique ingenuity by the dedicated and ambitious staff.
One such young employee was Bill Belliveau. Bill began his career with The Co-operators in 1949 through Maritime Co-operative Services (MCS), an Atlantic co-operative organization with which Co-operative Life maintained a partnership agreement. As a recently married man, Bill did not want to begin his married life in debt, and felt he could not afford to buy a car.
To get around town and sell insurance, Bill used the most reliable mode of transportation he could afford - a bicycle. Bill sold his first policy on March 4, 1950, arriving to the meeting on his bicycle.
Despite the offers of assistance in buying a car, Bill rode his bicycle for several months before he finally traded it in for a car, a 1937 Oldsmobile that cost $475.
The influence of Bill's drive to succeed and his willingness to go above and beyond is still with us today. His trademark of bicycling wherever his business took him was depicted in one of our television commercials.