At the top of its class

Clarica is on a tear. Fargo-based Clarica Life Insurance Co.-U.S. passed its 2001 end-of-year revenue mark just six months into this year. Sales through June 30 were $470 million, compared to $465 million in all of 2001. And Clarica accomplished ...

Clarica is on a tear.

Fargo-based Clarica Life Insurance Co.-U.S. passed its 2001 end-of-year revenue mark just six months into this year.

Sales through June 30 were $470 million, compared to $465 million in all of 2001.

And Clarica accomplished this while uprooting the entire staff -- from its old headquarters building immediately south of Island Park -- to the Clarica building in southwest Fargo. Clarica occupies the second, third and fourth floors of the tower at 2000 44th St. S.W.

"It was a major logistical feat," said Bruce Crozier, president and CEO. The move was made on a weekend in April. "We shut down mid-day Friday and by Monday morning all systems were up and running."


Clarica, a subsidiary of Toronto-based Sun Life (ticker symbol SLE on the New York Stock Exchange), has added 40 employees since Jan. 1, bringing the company's Fargo payroll to 210. Most of the new employees are case managers, brought on to process new business.

"We are very happy to be in Fargo, and with the Fargo work force," Crozier said. "We had no difficulty finding 40 new associates. They are very well educated and have a great work ethic."

Most of Clarica's growth has been in the sale of life insurance policies -- especially some new universal life policies -- and annuities, according to Crozier.

Reported sales for the first six months include $29.7 million in life sales, $291 million in annuity sales and $166 million in bank-owned life insurance sales. Clarica is a leader in the field of Bank Owned Life Insurance, used by financial institutions to protect themselves against the loss of key officers.

"These numbers are evidence that our strategy and culture are working," said Dan Peterson, vice president and chief marketing officer of Clarica. "Our focus on innovative products combined with outstanding employees has made the difference."

Crozier attributes Clarica's success to an unprecedented proliferation in the number of independent agencies and agents representing Clarica products in the United States.

"We've added 4,300 agents this year alone," Crozier said.

That is not reflective of the insurance business nationally, he added. "We are taking business away from other companies," Crozier said. "We are doing that by creating competitive, innovative products."


Clarica has eight employees directly involved in the development of insurance and annuity products and another 75 involved with new products through company teams.

Clarica applies a "top quality focus" to its products in the marketplace. What that means is that every product must be among the top 25 percent among competitive products. "If the product is not, we either retool it or withdraw it from the market," Crozier said. "We are not all things to all people, so we can't be in all market segments. Every company has a few key products that it focuses on."

Clarica offers a broad range of individual life insurance and annuity products through a network of independent agents in 48 states and the District of Columbia. It is part of a leading financial services company offering investment and insurance products across North America. Clarica is rated A+ (strong) by Standard & Poor's and A+ (superior) by A.M. Best.

Robert Adams, assistant vice president in Oldwick, N.J.-based A.M. Best's life/health ratings division, said insurance business growth is tough given the condition of the nation's economy.

"I know that Clarica spent a lot of time in the last 18 months to two years on marketing -- and building the number of relationships they have. The sales they've had this year indicate those efforts are paying dividends," Adams said.

Gary Paulsrud, president of Fargo's Producers Financial Group, said his marketing company has handled Clarica products since 1988.

"They've done a wonderful job producing products the last 24 months," he said. "They are extremely competitive and varied enough to help you attract more people.

"They are not one-dimensional. Clarica manages to be strong in multiple product lines. That's a boon for us."


Unlike other companies, Clarica had no exposure to life claims from Sept. 11. Clarica, as it happens, does not write policies in the state of New York.

"With the (stock) market down, people are looking for products with a guaranteed return," Crozier said. "People are looking for highly rated companies with products that give them a guaranteed return."

Jack Marrion, president of the Advantage Group, a St. Louis research and consulting firm that tracks insurance annuity products, said Clarica is the 12th largest index annuity company in the nation.

"They're ahead of a significant number of other companies," he said. "Their products are known for their customer-friendly features."

Marrion said Clarica is among just six companies on Advantage's "honor role" for index annuity renewals. "What that means is that we feel they treat the customer fairly," he said.

Peterson said there's no slowdown in sight at Clarica.

"With the sales growth momentum and the incredible service experience our distributors and customers receive, $1 billion in new sales revenue is in our sights," Peterson said.

Readers can reach Forum Business Editor

Gerry Gilmour at (701) 241-5560

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