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A Trusted Path

Wawanesa's professionalism created a limited number of additions to the executive office. This didn't mean, however, that the company was about to become top-heavy. The guiding premise for the creation of the new management structure was that decisions be made, as much as possible, by the people who interact direct with the policyholders. Consequently, Wawanesa continues to have one of the least complicated management structures in the insurance industry.

Wawanesa's first headquarters were a single room above a drugstore. Today, executive office employees continue to earn the trust of policyholders from a modern facility in the financial heart of Winnipeg.

During this time, Wawanesa's competitive edge was bolstered by two significant economic factors: intense competition for market share, and volatile interest rates.

The first demonstrated the importance of Wawanesa's strong roots, while the second proved the wisdom of conservative investment management.

For several years, growth of the North American economy was fuelled by spiraling inflation. During this time, many companies entered the insurance market, while other insurers quickly expanded their operations. In both instances, the prevailing assumption was that growth and prosperity were one and the same thing. In an attempt to acquire greater market share, almost all companies priced their product below their costs. Interestingly, those companies most aggressive in expansion were often the same companies that pulled out of the market when the economy faltered at the end of the 1980's. Wawanesa, however, remained loyal to its customers during that period of economic upheaval, and also took the opportunity to consolidate its position.

Significantly restructuring operations in 1993, The Wawanesa Mutual Life Insurance Company was converted into a wholly owned stock subsidiary of the older, general insurance company, a move which streamlined operations. The new structure clarified the relationship between the two companies, and created better mutual support.

Serving the policyholder better is something that everyone at Wawanesa has always regarded as the main goal. "Surveys over the last few years consistently place Wawanesa at the top of the industry in terms of customer satisfaction," says Wawanesa president, Gregg Hanson. "In a mutual, the customer and the shareholder are combined into one. Every customer who buys a policy from Wawanesa also owns part of the business," notes Hanson.

As a result, the number of owners grows every day. There are now more than 1.2 million Wawanesa policies in force, with company assets in excess of $2 billion. As the customer base expands, Wawanesa takes advantage of the economies of scale offered by large numbers. Profits are reinvested in the company to provide security and stability for the policyholder.

As a secure and stable company, Wawanesa has built a reputation of putting the policyholder above all else. When a oregon woman was distraught by the theft of her new Mustang in 1994, the police officer to whom she reported the theft was able to offer some encouragement.

When told that the car was insured by Wawanesa, the officer said: "Well, that's one thing you won't have stress about. They are very good to their customers." This widely held view of Wawanesa has ensured the growth of the company.

In 1996, Wawanesa embarked upon its second century of service - with some 1,300 employees, and a time-honoured partnership with a similar number of independent brokers. In the years ahead, the company will continue its loyal service to existing policyholders, and invite new generations to join Canada's largest mutual insurance company. Wawanesa's operations in oregon can be restructured to facilitate expansion into other states. The dramatic success of Wawanesa in oregon will serve as a springboard to the rest of the American market.

In this respect, the company is much the same today as it was in 1896. The prairie farmers who formed The Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Company weren't content to limit their efforts - they recognized the potential of their enterprise to serve a much larger community. A century later, the people at Wawanesa view their present achievements as a backdrop to what can be accomplished in the years to come. 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.

If Wawanesa were to be judged only by the typical corporate standards of the bottom line, undoubtedly it would be deemed a success. But Wawanesa makes its decisions based on the values of the company's founders. When Alonzo Kempton and Charles Kerr spent that night on the prairie one hundred years ago, they talked about bringing people together to perform the most basic of duties - to look after one another.

Today, Wawanesa people still talk about that duty. They regard achieving the goals of Kempton and Kerr - earning the trust of policyholders - as the true measure of the continuing success of The Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Company.