Avia Collinder, Business Reporter, Gleaner

JN (Jamaica National) Life Insurance Company, a new operation that began writing business in 2013, grossed $51 million in premium revenue by year end December, and is targeting growth of 400 per cent this year.

JN Life general manager, Oliver Tomlinson, said the company aims to develop market share via two means: developing new products; and leveraging business through the JNBS (Building Society) group, which employs some 1,500 persons across 11 subsidiaries in Jamaica and overseas, and is the dominant player in the local mortgage market.

Tomlinson said the $51 million of premiums earned last year were from policies written over three months of operation. The new products will first be marketed within and through the family, he said, but adds that JN Life is also planning an incursion into the wider market, including the group life segment.

The new company is going up against five rivals – the dominant Sagicor Life Jamaica, Guardian Life, Scotia Jamaica Life Insurance, NCB Insurance and Cuna Mutual.

JN Life closed the 2013 financial year with net profit of $3.77 million, results impacted by a one-off loss of $4.8 million from participation in the National Debt Exchange. In 2012, when the company’s income was confined to non-core returns from investments and loans, it made $4 million of profit.

Tomlinson says the products he is devising also target bulk mortgages, creditor life and group life products under a medium-term strategy.

Measured by net premium revenue, JN Life’s three-month start scored 0.12 per cent of the $36 billion life market. It holds $253 million of assets, the majority of which are investments.

The company plans to build name recognition and market acceptance by leaning heavily on the name of its parent.

“A big part of life insurance is trust,” said Tomlinson. “The brand JN has been a staple in Jamaica for the last 140 years. We will be using that brand equity.”

JN Life was licensed in 2011 by the Financial Services Commission (FSC) to conduct ordinary life insurance business. In December 2012, the company got approval from the FSC to market group mortgage blanket protection policies, that is, bulk premiums. At the end of last year, it secured permission to sell individual policies.

“More and more, companies are becoming cognisant of the fact that they can retain employees with better benefits,” Tomlinson said of the planned push to secure contracts. “They [employees] look forward to group life coverage,” he said.

For now, JN Life’s mortgage line is its main source of revenue, says Tomlinson. The company writes coverage for the life of the mortgage loan.

JN Building Society is the largest private provider of mortgages, and is second in the market overall behind state-owned National Housing Trust. The housing agency has a mortgage portfolio valued at about $134 billion – for which coverage is provided by Sagicor.

JN Life wrote coverage for about $30 billion or around 90 per cent of the new loans issued by JNBS last year, according to Tomlinson, who says the building society’s older loans are covered under a variety of arrangements.

JNBS’ total mortgage portfolio is valued at $118.3 billion, according to central bank data.