Friday, May 23, 2008

Sagicor will list on the JSE in the second half of June

Published: Friday May 23, 2008

Jamaica's largest life insurance company, Life of Jamaica (LOJ), is to change its branding and assume that of its Barbadian parent Sagicor. LOJ will now become Sagicor Life Jamaica. This exercise is expected to be fully completed sometime next month when Sagicor will also be listed on the Jamaica Stock Exchange (JSE).

Life of Jamaica founded, by R Danny Williams has become one of the stellar brands on the Jamaican landscape for over three decades and there are those who view this latest decision as yet another case of a local corporate mainstay exiting the stage.

LOJ's president and CEO Richard Byles sought to explain: "We considered this decision very carefully and conducted a study which posed the question, would a customer prefer to be part of a great Jamaican company or a larger financial organisation where the risk is being spread all over the world?

"We concluded that people prefer international brands but I must add that the power of the Sagicor brand is very strong."

The Life of Jamaica boss also noted that when courting corporate clients, Sagicor provides a better sell as it has become a byword for confidence and comfort throughout the Caribbean.

The godfather of the Jamaican insurance industry, R Danny Williams founded life of Jamaica in 1970 as he sought to take on international players in the local market. Dennis Lalor took the helm during the late nineties with ambitions to turn the local life insurance giant into a Fortune 500 company. Unfortunately LOJ ran aground, ending up in the clutches of FINSAC as yet another distressed local financial company in need of a bail out.

A new century, indeed a new millennium saw a new owner with Barbadian insurance powerhouse Barbados Mutual riding to the rescue as a white knight. Former FINSAC executive Maxine McClure was appointed to guide LOJ out of choppy waters.

Having steered the ship for a few years, McClure was assigned to a top position at Sagicor's US operations and one of the leading lights of corporate Jamaica Richard Byles moved from Pan Jam to assume the top job at LOJ in 2004.

Byles has modernised Jamaica's leading life insurer and has driven revenue by rolling out a number of new products. He has also overseen the diversification into real estate projects such as Winchester and a growing investments portfolio without taking his eye off core business.Last year LOJ's total revenues increased by 15 per cent to J$11 billion. Individual life rose by 17 per cent, employee benefits by 10 per cent while investment income moved by 12 per cent.

Property and casualty income revenue rose by 32 per cent.

For 2007, net profit increased for the seventh consecutive year, with LOJ posting a figure of J$2.95 billion. It now manages a portfolio of J$130 billion of assets on behalf of clients."When you look at market share for the new business written in 2007, LOJ remains the leader in every business segment in which we participate which is individual life API market share, individual life policy count and individual life face amount. "People think of me as a numbers man, someone focused on profits and on operating efficiencies. Yes, I am that, for we must be profitable and we must be efficient, but also I know we must continue to be a great marketing organisation, for it is the balance between those objectives that makes Life of Jamaica a great company," said Byles at an awards ceremony earlier this year.

Perhaps one can view this rebranding exercise as yet another diminution of corporate Jamaica - the sun setting on a great Jamaican brand with one of the few savvy and tested Jamaican corporate leaders at the helm. The fit seems so perfect.

Byles takes a more sanguine approach. " Sagicor has a 60 per cent interest and Jamaicans hold the remain ding 40 per cent so there will still be strong input from Jamaicans.

Sagicor has significantly capitalised LOJ, which is a major contributory factor to its enduring success. It is because of Sagicor that we are rated A Excellent from AM Best. Jamaica as a country is rated B so that gives one some kind of perspective."

A pervading fear, however, is that Sagicor will dictate to the rebranded LOJ from on high with little consideration for local concerns.

Speaking with Caribbean Business Report, from LOJ's New Kingston headquarters, Byles said: "Sagicor will not change the recipe and we will continue to pursue the LOJ culture. We will be allowed to drive revenues and profits by the strategies that we have outlined but one has to be mindful that we have a parent company. In fact, Sagicor has learnt a thing or two from LOJ and has adopted some of our best practices, systems and so forth.

The president and CEO of Life of Jamaica further added that he conducted a study that revealed that his company leads his competitors in five out of six prescribed measures, with Scotia Mint only coming out ahead in total assets.

Source: Jamaica Observer

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