A Collective Success Story
SSQ Insurance published A Collective Success Story, 1944-2014. It tells the story of the company, from its foundation in 1944 to its 70th anniversary in 2014.
Note to readers
In late 1986, SSQ, Mutual Group Insurance published a history of its first 40 years in business (1944-1984), written by Line Ouellet and Marc Vallières.
When Jacques de la Chevrotière passed away in April 2011, it soon became clear that another page had been turned: it was time to delve into the company's more recent history. A series of meetings and interviews were held to document the influence of the men and women who have played key roles at SSQ Insurance over the past 30 years. This mandate was entrusted to Jacques Saint-Pierre, a writer and historian.
To ensure continuity and to facilitate the completion of this work, the decision was made to re-edit the first volume of SSQ Insurance's history, "A Collective Success Story: 1944-1984," and to produce a second volume covering 1985 to 2014. Readers will thus note a marked change in both form and style between the two volumes, reflecting differences between the eras they cover.
Since its founding and over the course of its development, SSQ Insurance has remained solidly committed to its original core values, which have shaped its day-to-day decisions and actions. They also explain why SSQ Insurance remains committed to putting customers first—they have been and continue to be its raison d'être since 1944. And that is why this volume bears the title: A Collective Success Story: 1944-2014
It is a privilege to lead a company like SSQ Insurance. A company that has remained true to its core values since day one and whose mission offers not only a goal, but a means to achieve it. As such, we embrace mutualist values that put people and social development first in order to provide high quality financial products and services.
This book recounts 70 years of history at SSQ Insurance, from its early days as a health care cooperative in Quebec City's Saint‑Sauveur district, through its transformation into one of Quebec's leading insurance mutuals, to a financial group that today in 2014 operates all across Canada.
This volume examines the ups and downs of SSQ Insurance's first 70 years in business and offers a detailed account of a story best defined as a collective success. It also pays homage to the men and women responsible for this success, and the partners whose ongoing support has enabled the organization to flourish.
Today, SSQ Insurance is a modern, efficient and responsible organization with its values in the right place—an achievement 70 years in the making!
Chairman of the Board
President and CEO
The years 1944-1984
A company with working-class roots: highly diverse social groups converge to form a cooperative capable of holding its own in a highly competitive industry, resulting in a success story and beacon of hope for all those who subscribe to cooperative ideals.
This is a true story of a solidly rooted company whose founding and early years were certainly momentous. The bulk of the story took place not so long ago: indeed, most of the action dates back to the 1940s and 1950s.
Some readers will undoubtedly be familiar with the socio-political climate of yesteryear, while those from a younger generation may be surprised to realize how different contemporary Quebec society is, in all respects, from the picture provided in these pages.
A man and an idea (1939-1944)
Multiple factors, including the economic difficulties faced by many French Canadians, the Quebec government's non-intervention policy and the broad-based consensus on clergy-supported nationalism, account for the fact that so many private initiatives began working to address the problems facing workers, farmers and the middle class. Previously, in the areas of social services and insurance, which sought to provide protection against life's uncertainties (sickness, unemployment, old age, etc.), government programs were few and far between and were mostly provided at the federal level. Related legislation included the Old Age Pensions Act (1926), the Unemployment Insurance Act (1941) and the Family Allowance Act (1944). Only public assistance (1921) and aid for mothers in need (1937) had drawn the attention of the provincial government. Everything else was left up to private initiatives or public charity.
Quebec had yet to embrace the role of state intervention. The Church, through its support and charitable organizations, did what it could, although the task it faced was daunting despite continual calls for citizens to take part in its social initiatives. At that time, the state saw its function as a strictly auxiliary one.
The founding of the Coopérative de Santé de Québec (1944)
For five years, Dr. Tremblay had been traveling extensively to promote the principles of cooperative medicine. Based on the studies he conducted, primarily involving US-based experiments, he came up with the ground rules for a functional medical cooperative. Skills of various kinds—education, advertising, administration, accounting, actuarial services, etc.—would be required. They would have to be acquired or assembled and would have to be available in each cooperative. If they were not, all promotional efforts would be in vain.
One thing added to the sense of urgency: Dr. Tremblay feared the imminent arrival in Quebec of Blue Cross, a US-based health insurance company already operating south of the border. In his view, the threat of a foreign intruder within the nascent Quebec market made swift action all the more necessary. At the same time, Dr. Tremblay was by far the most knowledgeable proponent of cooperative medicine and was thus the most qualified person to spearhead such an initiative.
The Coopérative de Santé de Québec (1944-1945)
The founding meetings provided the cooperative with bylaws and an operating framework that stood the test of time, i.e., after various preliminary versions were considered and following animated debates as the cooperative was being implemented. The first bylaws that mention the "Coopérative médicale de Québec" or, later on, the "Coopérative de Santé de Québec", are astonishing in terms of the wide-ranging powers assigned to the members. The first version provided for regular meetings in September, December and June, in addition to the annual general meeting.
Les Services de Santé de Québec (1946-1949)
1946 was a milestone year in SSQ Insurance's growth as it marked a brand-new start. Until then, the company had been a strictly local endeavour struggling to make inroads. To make matters worse, a fearsome competitor—Blue Cross—had opened up for business across the province of Quebec.
There is no question that Blue Cross's arrival was a matter of grave concern and not only to SSQ Insurance's management. The clergy, led by Monseigneur Georges-Léon Pelletier, auxiliary bishop of Quebec City, was also worried and urged SSQ Insurance to restructure its operations in order to thwart Blue Cross once and for all. Such full-scale resistance stemmed from the view, shared by Monseigneur Pelletier and some of his colleagues, that Blue Cross, due to its religious neutrality, might have an adverse impact not only on the population, but also on the province's Catholic hospitals. Of course, economic arguments added to the pressure being exerted.
Turnaround and high-speed growth (1950-1959)
In the aftermath of so much turmoil, 1950 did not start out as a promising year. Since 1948, the company's assets had been diminishing, while the deficit in 1949 represented 20% of total assets. The new general manager, Jacques de la Chevrotière, was forced to rectify this vulnerability without delay. One fact bears repeating: the company's survival was at stake.
Adapting to social change (1960-1972)
The unionization of SSQ Insurance's employees marked a new chapter in the company's history, and the rest of Quebec society was poised on the cusp of change as well. In Quebec and in many other parts of the world, the slow process of transforming socio-economic relations had received the political establishment's official approval. Henceforth, the twin forces of urbanization and industrialization would bring a whole new dimension to Quebec society.
SSQ Insurance: group insurance specialist (1973-1982)
In the early 1950s, SSQ Insurance anticipated the many transformations that would go on to alter the fabric of Quebec society.
The company took part in debates on constitutional issues in 1954 and on hospitalization insurance in 1960. In 1962, it experimented with its own regional health insurance program. Thanks to these initiatives and discussions, SSQ Insurance defined its strategy and its style: to work in parallel with government programs and to fill in whatever gaps arose. In the company's view, it was the only path to survival; it was also the only path to relevance and profitability.
The years 1985-2014
SSQ Insurance has enjoyed tremendous growth through the years. Today, it is a solid and diversified financial institution and key player in the Canadian financial sector.
SSQ Insurance, an ongoing tradition (1985-1990)
In 1984, backed by $288 million in assets and $18 million in equity, SSQ Insurance wrote a new chapter in its history.
That same year, Quebec became the first jurisdiction in Canada to adopt a policy of "decompartmentalization" in a bid to eliminate barriers between the financial system's four central pillars (banks, insurers, trust companies and securities brokers). This decision reflected a trend towards economic neo-liberalism, along with the emergence of "Quebec Inc.", i.e., businesses developed by francophones with capital provided by public sector bodies such as the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) and the Société générale de financement (SGF), under programs such as the provincial registered stock savings plan (Régime enregistré d'épargne-actions), or by private funds such as the provincial labour federation's solidarity fund (Fonds de solidarité des travailleurs du Québec).
Tough economic times (1991-1993)
From 1984 to 1990, Quebec-chartered life and health insurance companies underwent spectacular growth as their total assets soared from $2.5 billion to $10.6 billion. Among them, SSQ Mutual Group Insurance ranked fifth with assets in excess of $780 million. These figures, however, mask a different reality: some companies were on very shaky financial ground and did not have sufficient capitalization to withstand the economic turmoil that arose in 1990. While Les Coopérants filed for bankruptcy and La Laurentienne was taken over by Desjardins, SSQ Insurance owed its survival to union support, chiefly the solidarity fund established by the Quebec labour federation (FTQ).
A new beginning (1993-2001)
A string of bankruptcies (Les Coopérants in 1992, Calgary-based Sovereign Life in 1993 and Toronto's venerable Confederation Life in 1994) took a heavy toll on Canada's life and health insurance industry. Stemming primarily from real estate problems, this crisis did not, however, change the dominant trends shaping the sector. The restructuring already underway continued to play out, with a number of highly significant mergers completed in early 2000 amid a wave of demutualization and stock market listings.
With union support, particularly from the FTQ's solidarity fund, SSQ Insurance turned its financial situation around as it pursued key initiatives, developed products and conquered new markets. It continued to fulfil its commitment to its members by creating jobs for many young people. Having weathered the storm, it went head-to-head with the competition and reached its goals by upholding its mutualist values and original governance model. In so doing, it set itself apart from other mutual insurers that decided to facilitate their growth by becoming joint stock companies.
Growth and diversification: upholding SSQ Insurance's values (2002-2011)
On the eve of the new millennium, the financial sector was going through a period marked by intense activity and fierce competition. Insurers with Canada-wide operations attempted to consolidate their positions on a market highly prized by insurers and other financial institutions, including banks; they also sought to develop foreign markets. For insurers in Quebec, the main goal was to fend off the competition and, in some cases (such as SSQ Insurance's), to expand their range of operations into the rest of Canada.
By adopting "SSQ Financial Group" as its name in 2000, the company set out a new vision for its future growth based on a stronger brand image, customer service and synergy between its business lines. When it finally reached $1 billion in annual revenues in 2003, SSQ moved to update its strategic goals with a view to achieving sustained growth and improving the well-being of its members and the communities they lived in.
Acquisitions and strategic repositioning (2012-2014)
After fuelling its growth by conquering new markets, SSQ Insurance made a number of acquisitions aimed at consolidating its position in the life insurance, auto insurance and travel insurance sectors. The company also adopted a new strategic plan, which repositioned the investment and retirement sector, together with its inaugural sustainable development and societal responsibility plan. These moves reflected SSQ Insurance's unwavering desire to maintain its unique character.
SSQ Insurance went on to write a new chapter in its history in 2012.