Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 15, 2000
Boom times for insurance
Alta. Knights one of the most succesful agencies in the order
By GLEN ARGAN
When Marc Bouchard lay down his hammer and nails to become an insurance agent for the Knights of Columbus in 1983, he was looking for a different sort of job.
He got more than he expected. "When I started having death claims and settling with a widow, I realized it's a profession." Bouchard had come face to face with the human value of life insurance.
"It's amazing how many hands are open at the time of a death," he says. Loans are called and there's a funeral to be paid for.
"At the time of a death, there are very few people bringing you money." But the Knights of Columbus insurance agent is one.
Bouchard worked as a K of C field agent in Red Deer for 10 years before going to Saskatchewan to head up the Knights' insurance operation for the province. From being ranked 110th among the order's 158 general agencies across North America, Saskatchewan under Bouchard moved up to the top 10 to 15 regions.
In 1998, he returned to Alberta to become general agent here. His wife Diana works full time as his office manager in Red Deer. Last year, Alberta rose to be ranked sixth. "This year, we are shooting to be in the top five."
More than that, Alberta's K of C insurance representatives last year issued more than $100 million of insurance, only the third time a Knights agency has sold that much and the first time that has happened in Canada. One agent, Bill Lewchuk of Calgary, sold $27 million, making him the top selling K of C agent on the continent.
Bouchard wants to see that $100 million in sales repeated this year, something no K of C agency has ever done.
But more than setting financial records, Bouchard is concerned about the people involved. That concern is at the core of the Knights of Columbus.
Father Michael McGivney founded the order in New Haven, Conn., in 1882 because he was concerned about the high death rate among Catholics who were the poorest paid, most ill-treated segment of the American working class at the time.
In the early days, to become a Knight, you had to buy life insurance; you had to support the widows and orphans of deceased members. That eventually changed and today fewer than half of K of C members hold life insurance through the order.
"What makes me successful is that I believe in the Knights of Columbus. I believe in what it stands for," says Bouchard. "And I really believe in life insurance."
He recalls being awakened by a phone call early one Sunday morning. A woman was phoning to say her husband had just died. Before calling their children and other family members, she was phoning her husband's insurance agent because that was his wish.
"I was a little bit overwhelmed that she phoned me first before anyone else," Bouchard says. As well as settling the insurance claim, he arranged for Knights to serve as pallbearers at the funeral.
Because the Knights are a fraternal organization, they are not required to pay taxes. "All the profit we make goes back to the people who own the policies."
But a small percentage must be given to charity. "We use it to fight abortion rather than give it to the government," says Bouchard.
Currently, there are 13 full-time, self-employed agents serving Knights in Alberta. Each are assigned 800 members. They oversee more than $500 million worth of insurance in the province - money that will be pumped into the Alberta economy over the next 30 to 40 years. Bouchard wants to see that figure climb to $1 billion over the next 10 years.
The Knights are now ranked among the top four per cent of insurance agencies in North America, he says. Fewer than 20 of the 1,800 life insurance companies on the continent have received the AAA rating from Standard and Poors.
Bouchard sums it up this way: "The Knights of Columbus change with the times. They keep themselves current."
Standard and Poors says it "believes K of C is successfully achieving its primary objective of providing members and their families with high-quality, low-cost insurance products.
"The society focuses on membership growth and the distribution of fraternal benefits by engaging its members in charitable, educational, religious and social endeavours in the community.
"The society seeks to continuously promote membership growth by strengthening existing councils and actively promoting the growth of new councils. Its goal is to institute a council in every parish.
"Apart from engaging in various activities and charitable works, the members and their families provide the market for the society's insurance program. Every member is eligible for K of C insurance and is encouraged to recruit new members."