Why was Rocky Mountain Life so Successful?

From Jim Woods notes for his RML book

The founders of Rocky Mountain Life were all trained to sell Life Insurance in the old-fashioned way. Our people were convinced there had to be a better way. Jim and his Vice President chose to explore new avenues being followed in the United States. They were very impressed with one operation and chose to a large extent, to follow their model with many improvements of their own.

 The Market

We realized that a new young Company needed a new approach to the people. We designed a new and very attractive savings contract with Equity participation. The Stock Market was attracting the public, but Investors Syndicate and such companies were getting the majority of this business at that time.

There was a need for a new company to be different. Our first two years in business proved to us that we needed a new approach. We could not compete with the old Life Insurance Companies. In fact, they believed us to be a "Joke" more than anything else - naturally an insult to grown people trying to improve Financial Enterprise to Western Canada. We kept asking our selves, why can’t' the west develop its own Financial Enterprise. Not all brains exist in Eastern Canada, we have some pretty intelligent people out here in the west. After all we started the concept of Campus for Life Insurance Salesmen in Edmonton. Why can't we start a Life Insurance Company in Calgary? The expertise was available, and we have the desire, so let’s go and we did.

Life is short and the lessons are many, we have all has some success and many failures. We learn more from our mistakes than in any other way. This makes us very knowledgeable so why not give it a try but let’s make our own mistakes in a different way in the future.

So why was Rocky Mountain Life so successful. As we have stated before "It's the people that make the difference".

How can a small new company become the most successful new Life Insurance Company in only four years?

The answer lies in the simple fact that you have to be different. Firstly, it's ridiculous to try and compete with Companies who have it all their own way for about fifty years without making any significant changes.

We knew we had to be different and we knew we wouldn't win a popularity contest in being different. The old Life Insurance Companies were so set in their ways, nothing much will ever be changed by them.

Imagine from that unknown place called Alberta, somewhere in Canada. Showing North America that maybe there are better ways of doing things, that sounded ridiculous. 

  • You don't have to know how to sing - it's the feeling as though you want too that makes the day. 
  • Happiness and hard work go hand in hand.
  • The amount of criticism levelled at you is related to your success. 
  • Success is climbing mountains - climb one and look for another taller one. 
  • Everything worthwhile in life has a fence around it, but there is always a gate and a key. 


So, What Did The Rocky Mountain Life Insurance Company do?

The first major decision we made was we would not follow the leaders. There had to be new and better ways.

It was indeed unfortunate that the Major Life Insurance Companies in Canada had it all their own way. They even had their own association where they would decide how they all would operate. There were some minor exceptions but hardly worth considering.

After four years of operation Rocky Mountain Life had become the top company in Alberta outselling all other companies, both in volume of Life Insurance sold, and in new premium income collected. We also sold more contracts than any of the other companies, but those figures are not available for publication.

We did 40% of all the new business sold in 1969, both in volume of insurance sold and in Premium Increase. Our expense ratio was the lowest in all of Canada. We produced 40% of all new business sold in Alberta, and after four years we had a full-time sales organization of 175 people - including many women. Sales commissions were the lowest paid in the Life Insurance business. 

In addition, we put together a second company - The Professional Life and commenced building the Rocky Mountain Plaza in downtown Calgary. We ended up with an 18% equity position in that building, what the Government ended up doing with it remains a mystery. That equity today should be worth about ten million dollars. We will, somehow, learn "what happened to our 18% equity".

In addition to the above we helped to start the Columbia Life in Oregon and the Diamond Head Life in Hawaii.

The question is always asked - "How did you do all these things", and the answer always remains the same "we believed in good people" and that "you can do anything you want to do if you want it enough".

The Bright Light

The Rocky Mountain Life was the "Bright Light" of the Life Insurance Companies, and Albertans "Rallied believing" and "Aggressively supporting" the Company, not only by willingly investing in the company, but in purchasing the Companies Insurance contracts.

A significant part of Rocky Mountain Life's success was our decision to specialize in the Juvenile market. This market was looked after by the Investors Syndicate and other similar organizations.

We determined that the best way to meet the "Breadwinner" of the household was through his children. This worked very well and resulted in the Life Insurance being placed on the father who would also control the savings. This concept worked very well as planned.

We further determined the best way to the professional worker was if the professional owned their own company.

Ray Hannigan (A Catholic Priest in Libby Montana) was the "spark" that put Professional Life into business.

The concept was working very well when the heat was put on Rocky Mountain Life. It was the happening of a Professional time and could have been the saviour of Rocky Mountain Life. Jim had the concept for the formation of Professional Life and our Senior Vice President Ray Hannigan made it work.

We proposed a merger with Professional Life which would have saved everything else. But in their "Great wisdom" they chose to go it alone, they had $900,000 at the time.

Shorty there after they sold the company for $500,000 to Paramount Life which was itself taken over by the Government. I now understand it is all owned by the Toronto National Life Insurance Company - All back to Eastern Canada. - Around in a circle!! - All because the Alberta Conservative Government and their total lack of interest in developing our own Financial Institutions and "Killing" Rocky Mountain Life in the first place.

It is nearly thirty years ago but the story of North America's most successful new Life Insurance Company "Rocky Mountain Life" is well remembered by Albertans of the day.

Before the company was forced out of business - mostly by the "Old Line" Insurance companies, its success was nothing short of dramatic, and well recognized by Albertans of all walks of life. Albertans made it well known that they wanted Alberta to develop its own Financial Industry rather than send all Financial profits to Eastern Canadian Interests.  The profits of Financial Enterprise are mammoth and unfortunately are retained by Eastern Interests. 

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